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MANILA, Philippines – The Phoenix Fuelmasters have a lot to be optimistic about as the calendar year ends.
The team is currently 4-3 midway through the Philippine Cup standings, in good position to secure a playoff spot when play resumes in 2017, and even quite possibly contend for one of the higher seeds. The roster has a good mix of veteran and youthful talent, one that has already displayed its potential in back-to-back comeback wins versus Meralco and GlobalPort.
Arguably the most exciting member of Phoenix’s young core is Matthew Wright, the franchise’s 25-year-old draft selection during the 2016 PBA Gilas special draft. Through 5 games, the St Bonaventure University standout is averaging 17.5 points a game on 44% shooting, including a very impressive 42% shooting clip from outside on an average of 5.2 attempts a game.
Wright also does the other things, like rebounding the ball 5.7 times a game and dishing 2.5 assists a game. His one-on-one defense needs work, but his offensive capabilities make him already a standout PBA stud and one of the league’s most promising players for the future.
Talking to Wright gives you a sense of how self-confident he is, but not to the point of arrogance. He’s aware of his capabilities, but doesn’t ignore the hurdles that still limit him.
“I’m still learning. Every game I’m learning. Every practice I’m learning,” he told Rappler after finishing with 19 points, 9 boards, and 4 assists against GlobalPort, a game where he converted two clutch free throws late.
But it was in that same game where, with Phoenix leading by 3 and less than a minute remaining on the game clock, Wright fouled Batang Pier star Terrence Romeo who was attempting a corner 3-pointer.
Romeo, who had 32 points and 9 assists, converted all 3 charities to tie the match and add suspense, but Phoenix eventually escaped with the win thanks to Mark Borboran’s timely game-winning put-back.
“I fouled Terrence on the 3. It could have gone either way, but I should have known better [that] they’ve been calling those fouls tight,” Wright reflected post-match, clearly disappointed with the mistake.
“Those are the small things that I got to keep in the back of my mind, even in the heat of the moment.”
When asked about how tough it was to guard Romeo, considered by many as the next face of the PBA, Wright responded: “He’s good. I’ve guarded guys just as good or better than him. He’s a good player. That’s it.”
Some could take that line as arrogance, a rookie unwilling to pay respect to the man who’s arguably the league’s most popular player at present. But Wright seems like the type of player who’s unafraid to take on anyone, despite his inexperience, and continues to strive for improvement.
“I’m not through with my progression. I reckon it could be better. But I’m never satisfied,” he said.
Coming back from down 26 isn’t a winning formula, but a comeback victory is still better than a loss, so the Fuel Masters will take it.
It’s no secret that Phoenix has a habit of getting off to slow starts this PBA conference, but that they have a knack for rallying and making things competitive down the stretch show signs of a winning character.
“We pulled a similar comeback against Meralco last game. I kept telling these guys, we were down by like 20 something in the fourth quarter, and I just told them to stay composed,” Wright recalled.
“I was just waiting for my chance to go back in. I was well-rested, along with the other guys. We knew they were tired. They played an amazing game for 3 quarters. Eventually, these guys are human. They’re going to die down.”
That’s what eventually happened. Phoenix out-scored GlobalPort 40-15 in the final frame, eventually sealing the deal thanks to superb individual showings by Cyrus Baguio, JC Intal, Wright, and Borboran.
“So when they died down, we put on the burners, and we caught them off guard and we made them miss shots, and we were able to get the rebound at the end of the missed shots,” said Wright.
“We just kept our composure. That was all it was.” – Rappler.com