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Sam Miguel

Not Hapee

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Hapee is a brand long associated with amateur basketball. It was among the later stalwarts of the now-defunct Philippine Basketball Leage. They joined the PBA D leage last conference, basically taking over the multi-titled NLEX franchise made up of the core of NCAA Dynasts San Beda. As expected they won the championship against the hardfighting Cagayan franchise to usher in a successful return to amateur basketball.

Unfortunately things are not going quite so well for the Fresh Fighters in the current PBA D League Foundation Cup.

At 3-3 they're fifth in the 10-team standings. They needed an overtime to beat Cafe France in their last game at the San Juan Arena. 6'8" San Beda import Ola ADeogun tossed in an awkward miss by Troy Rosario with only 3/10 of a second remaing in regular time 63-63, sending that game into overtime.

Prior to that, Maverick Ahanmisi, a US NCAA Division 1 product, looked like he had sealed the win for the Bakers, nailing back-to-back three-pointers to push Cafe France to a 61-53 spread with a little over three minutes to go. Ahanmisi wound up with a superb all-around game with 16 points (three treys), seven rebounds, and six assists to lead the Bakers. His speed and strength clearly rattled fellow Filipino-American ballers Ray Parks, the two-time UAAP MVP, and Chris Newsome, the two guys tasked to match up with him.

Parks and Newsome are both highly athletic and talented UAAP stars, but clearly the US NCAA Division 1 product was indeed on a higher basketball plane, at least in this game. Ahanmisi ran hard in transition and the early offense, and hit the outside jumper either off his own dribble or off passes on the drive-draw.

Hapee had already lost to Jumbo and Keramix, two teams that, on paper, should not have been able to stand toe to toe with the Fresh Fighters, much less beat them. They also got blown off the floor by their first Finals rival, Cagayan. Granted Hapee was without Adeogun and the five other San Beda stalwarts prior to this game. The Red Lions arrived right in time. Had Hapee lost this game they would have gone down to 2-4, precarious with only four games remaining on their schedule.

Another San Beda stalwart, 6'4" forward Arthur De La Cruz, was named best player in this overtime victory with 18 points and 10 rebounds. "We just want to help our team win," De La Cruz said in one post-game interview. Help is needed plenty from the way Hapee was going before this game.

Comes now the question: Even without the San Beda players onboard, Hapee still had plenty of talent. Rosario, Parks, Newsome, have former Ateneo standout Kirk Long, reigning NCAA MVP Scottie Thompson, former JRU star Marvin Hayes, and quality reinforcements in former St Benilde gunner Mark Romero, and banger Tonton Bringas, as teammates. So how could they have started off at 2-3? Just with that roster, shouldn't it have been a 5-0 start for Hapee?

Let's do a little deeper digging:

1) Parks cannot do it all by himself. Parks was also last conference's MVP. His talent is without question. But his ability to literally carry a team on his own shoulders remains in doubt. He never won a UAAP championship with National University for example. Ironically NU won that elusive championship after Parks left. Everyone from coaches, to teammates, to the TV Panel guys, all seem to think Parks is this unstoppable one-man gang. His record so far suggests he is not.

2) Troy Roasrio needs to have a strong all-star center beside him. Rosario just came off a championship with NU in the UAAP, where he spent four years trying to get better. At a legit 6'6", with long limbs and strong springs, he looks like the Top 3 PBA Draft Pick everyone expects he will be. As in the case of Parks there is no doubting Rosario's talent. Unfortunately, Rosario needs to be paired with another good big man to be effective. He isn't one of those franchise cornerstone types who will do well on his own. In the NU championship run in the UAAP he had arguably the best import in the league in 6'6" Alfred Aroga. Before that he had another top import in 6'6" Jean Mbe.

3) Isolation plays and pounding the low post are no longer the only keys to success. Having Parks and Rosario on the roster makes it tempting to think just giving them the ball and letting them operate will ensure win after win after win. That is precisely what Hapee has done throughout their first five games. That is not really surprising though considering that...

4) Keeping a supporting cast strictly as a supporting cast makes teams predictable. That however presupposes that the supporting cast can also deliver, and this suporting cast can deliver, IF they get the chance. Thompson, the NCAA MVP, gets the ball a lot with Perpetual Help, which allowed him to pile on the stats that made him MVP. On this team that obviously isn't happening. Long was a valuable rotation guy for Ateneo whose main strengths were strong on-ball defense and being a secondary ball handler. Newsome is probably a better athlete than Parks, and even developed an outside jumper in his last UAAP season, but just like Thompson he hasn't seen the ball enough to contribute more. This is what happens when isos and post-ups make up most of a team's offense. How hard is it even for a less talented team to crowd lanes and send help?

5) Ola Adeogun and the San Beda guys are just what the doctor ordered; ok, mostly Adeogun. Adeogun is everything Hapee needs to make its two other stars play like unstoppable forces again. Adeogun provides the rebounding coverage and outlet passing that Parks thrives on. Adeogun's outlet passing will also be a big boost for Newsome, Thompson, and Long. Rosario will also benefit because he now gets to move back to his more natural position as a very long and athletic power forward. Rosario will now get his own second-chance points with opposing frontlines trying to keep the mighty Adeogun off both boards. Adeogun also brings that shot-swatting, shot-altering element back to Hapee.

6) Baser Amer is the other San Beda guy the doctor ordered and they need him quick. Nico Elorde will never be confused for an elite pointguard at any level. Amer is not quite elite but is certainly miles better than Elorde, especially at the D League level. Both are not the speed-demon-pointguard types, but Amer at least can run a strong team. Elorde has problems just advancing the ball on his own against pressure, something the likes of Jeff Viernes and Ali Austria thoroughly exposed. Amer has good size and strength at the pointguard spot, plus his leadership is always an asset.

Clearly Hapee management realized that their original roster at the start of this conference was not going to cut it. Whether or not the red and white cavalry has arrived in time however will take three more games to see. Hapee can't really afford to lose any of those.
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