By Jonas Terrado
Barangay Ginebra San Miguel was still feeling the euphoria of winning another PBA championship when LA Tenorio and his long-time coach Tim Cone began to plot about their next mission.
“LA came up to me and said we better win the All-Filipino,” Cone said after Ginebra closed out Meralco 105-93 to claim the PBA Governors’ Cup crown before 17,000 fans at the Mall of Asia Arena Friday night.
The Philippine Cup, the most important tournament of every PBA season, is the only championship Ginebra has yet to claim since Cone took over and turn the crowd-favorites into one of the league’s consistent contenders.
Ginebra won all of its four titles under Cone reinforced by the beloved import Justin Brownlee, who is perhaps the new epitome of the team’s “Never Say Die” attitude.
But the title Cone described as the PBA’s “crown jewel” continues to elude Ginebra.
“You win the All-Filipino, you’re the best team. There’s no doubt about it,” said Cone. “We always have that prejudice that we have the best import and that’s why we win. But if we win the All-Filipino, it will be all about us.”
In order to get that status, Ginebra will still have to go through the juggernaut known as the San Miguel Beermen, who have dominated the Philippine Cup for the last five seasons.
SMB remains a favorite going into the next season’s first conference which starts in March.
“San Miguel has had an incredible monopoly on the All-Filipino in the last five years and it’s well-deserved. They are a special, special team,” Cone admitted. “And obviously (the rest of the teams) are trying, all of us. No matter who we are. We all want to get that All-Filipino championship.
“That’s why they call it the crown jewel of the three championships. So, needless to say, we’re gonna be motivated,” he added.
Ginebra’s closest chance at winning the Philippine Cup under Cone was in 2017 when they fell in five games to San Miguel. The Kings would lose to the Beermen in the semifinals and to the Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok in the quarters over the next two editions.
The addition of Stanley Pringle, however, could bring a new dynamic for Ginebra, as witnessed with his performance against Meralco in the just-concluded championship series.
A motivated Japeth Aguilar, named PBA Press Corps-Honda Finals Most Valuable Player for his all-around showing, and a solid crew of Tenorio and Scottie Thompson to name a few also gives the Kings another strong reason to believe.
“I think Stanley Pringle gives us our best chance,” said Cone. “Having Stanley now, having that constant threat on the floor’s gonna open up things for everybody else. He almost, almost plays an import-like role out there on the floor so they have to count him.
“And that’s gonna open up for everybody else, and it gives guys like Japeth and Greg the opportunity to really step up forward and be the dominant guys instead of kinda stepping back and allowing the import to do that.”
On a personal note, getting the Philippine Cup would mean a lot for Tenorio, whose five championships have come in import-laden tournaments.
He had fallen short twice. Aside from the 2017 defeat to San Miguel, Tenorio settled for a runner-up trophy as a rookie point guard of the Beermen in 2007.
Ironically, Tenorio and the Beermen lost to Ginebra in six games.
“Lahat ng championships ko with imports so iba pag All-Filipino,” said Tenorio. “But it’s not easy. Mahirap yung pinagdaanan namin ngayon, mas triple ang pagdadaanan namin.
After a stellar defensive effort that left Meralco crumbling, Tenorio feels the same mindset will be instrumental in seeing his goal become a reality.
“But I think with the way we play as a team right now, I hope madala namin ngayon sa All-Filipino. With the way we play defense, sobrang natutuwa ako. Hindi ko nakita tong team na to maglaro ng defense nang ganun. Sana madala namin yun sa All-Filipino.”