Freego Jeans: Bow out or sudden death?

Mia Domingo

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Freego Jeans has the unenviable task of breaking down the NLEX Road Warriors in Game 2 of the PBA D-League Aspirants' Cup Finals to force sudden death and get a shot at the top.

MANILA, Philippines – Recruitment or star power may seem to be behind the virual invincibility of the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) Road Warriors in the semi-professional ranks. 

The truth is they are the farthest thing from it.

Breaks of the game

The Road Warriors’ Ryan Roose Garcia, Emman Monfort, Garvo Lanete, Chris Ellis, Clifford Hodge and Dave Marcelo brought home the gold during the 2011 South East Asian Games. Once they got home though, they crashed back down to earth with a crippled lineup at the Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL) and PBA D-League schedules colliding.

NLEX was scheduled to face the Big Chill Superchargers at the same time PCCL scheduled the San Sebastian Stags to play. The services of 3 important pieces of their puzzle were missing: Calvin Abueva, Ian Sangalang and Ronald Pascual.

The game was close throughout with the Superchargers eking out not just an 85-83 win but also dealing the favored Road Warriors their first loss. The Road Warriors never looked back and indeed looked hungrier than ever in their succeeding games. With an 8-game winning streak, NLEX found themselves occupying the top spot with a 9-1 card at the end of the eliminations. They earned one of the 2 outright semi-finals slots.

They faced the Superchargers again in the semi-finals – the same team that gave them their first conference defeat. Surprisingly, they once again bowed out – 83-66. The 17-point loss was a far cry from their first 2-point defeat at the hands of Big Chill and it happened even with a healthy and complete lineup. To make matters worse, Calvin “The Beast” Abueva was ejected from the game for throwing an elbow in Jessie Collado’s face.

The Road Warriors may have come back from those losses but it just goes to show that it all boils down to what breaks you get and how you use them.

Growing pains

Fast forward to the PBA D-League Aspirants’ Cup finals and Freego Jeans is one loss away from going home with second place.

Freego has to break the Road Warriors’ sticky defense that hurt them in Game 1. Hurdling that first obstacle will get their main guns in Alex Nuyles, Lester Alvarez and Eric Camson firing to get a chance to bring down NLEX. At all costs, the Jeans Makers have to avoid forced outside shots and low percentage bailout shots.

Chemistry-wise, Freego Jeans is miles away from where the Road Warriors are. With a number of holdovers from last conference’s Foundation Cup, NLEX clearly has the upper hand.

The most interesting thing about basketball though is the opportunity to throw in just one unexpected attack that can create your own break in the game.

Sweet recognition

An interesting side story in Game 2 is finding out who gets to take home the Best Player of the Conference plum.

Big names for the most valuable player version of the semi-professional league are Vic Manuel of Cebuana, RR Garcia and Chris Ellis of NLEX, Jeff Viernes and Mac Montilla of Café France, and Jessie Collado of Big Chill.  The most resounding name for this award is RR Garcia – who has played his usual and normal all-around game all conference long.

The awarding will be on Tuesday, February 7, at the Filoil Flying V Arena before the tipoff of Game 2. The winner will be looking forward to bigger and better things as the conference is considered a stepping stone to or training ground for the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) professional ranks.

With this in mind, Freego Jeans players gain an edge and more respect on the court depending on their performance on Tuesday. The NLEX Road Warriors may already have an edge and may be looking at creating a dynasty. May the best team win. –

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