Banchero keeps growing, Alaska reaps reward
MANILA, Philippines – Not even a year with Alaska and rookie Chris Banchero has already personified the very ethos head coach Alex Compton keeps drilling into his players: keep getting better.
The 26-year old 5th overall pick of the 2014 Draft consistently improved through his first PBA season and steadily rose to become a vital cog for the Aces’ second unit.
“He’s a good, tough, strong player,” Compton commended his young playmaker who has earned significant minutes as a reliable spark off the bench.
As a rookie, Banchero was fortunate enough to experience a PBA Finals in just his first conference. That, according to Compton, played a huge part in Banchero’s rapid growth.
“He’s a tough kid, he plays hard,” Compton said.
Banchero’s toughness and aggressiveness was on full display in game 1 of the Aces’ best-of-5 semifinals series against the Star Hotshots, where the Filipino-Italian ignited a momentum-shifting third quarter surge that completed Alaska’s comeback from 18 points down.
“When I’m able to get in the middle, the defense starts collapsing and we start to get open shots in the perimeter,” said Banchero, who had 10 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists in the Aces’ 97-91 game 1 win over the Hotshots.
Banchero jolted Alaska once more with 9 points, 7 rebounds and an assist in a 95-74 thrashing of the Star in game 2 to move a win away from a return trip to the Finals.
This semifinals performance is Banchero’s latest improvement in a steady rise in the PBA as he went from an average of 5.4 points in the Philippine Cup, to 6.7 points in the Commissioner’s Cup, and now 10.5 points so far in the Governors’ Cup, per HumbleBola.com.
“I’m extremely comfortable now,” Banchero said. “The first two conferences it was kind of up and down for me. But this third conference I know what I bring with the second squad. When I’m able to play well, we’re tough to beat.”
“When I give good minutes, give JVee (Casio) some rest, then our team is able to play well,” he added.
Banchero’s assists likewise progressed as he constantly flirted with the double-double and went across the stat sheet throughout this conference.
“Our emphasis has been growth,” Compton said. “You got to get better as a human being, got to get better as a player.”
Though Banchero is not exactly like any inexperienced rookie.
Commitment to defense
Banchero had significant burn as he played for San Miguel Beermen in the ASEAN Basketball League right after college, where he ascended to prominence as a heady playmaker that led the Beermen to the 2013 ABL title. He also won Finals MVP honors.
But as he joined Alaska, Banchero had a chance to work on his weaknesses.
“The thing I really appreciate about Chris was he was never a defender, and he told me so himself, and he’s become a much better defender,” Compton shared.
“Chris is a very good player,” import Romeo Travis said of Banchero, with whom he has gotten along quite well.
“He started off very, very shaky. I told him at halftime, ‘just calm down, be your normal self. Don’t let them steal your aggressiveness’,” Travis shared after game 1 of the semis. “In the second half he came out aggressive and played really good defense.”
Compton, who has turned Alaska into a top defensive juggernaut in the league in just a year of tenure, unlocked Banchero’s potential as a defender. It has proven useful for the Aces in the semifinals as Banchero locked down on Hotshots point guard Mark Barroca.
“He’s really committed to become an excellent defensive player and that’s a character move,” Compton pointed out the greater implication of Banchero’s choice to work on a less glamorous aspect of basketball.
“Because how many statistics are there for defense? There’s tons for offense, there’s not a lot for defense. And he’s made that effort with a lot of players on our team to become a better defensive player.”
Asked what role Compton wants for Banchero, the humble coach said he wants nothing more from the rookie than constant growth.
“None of us is perfect. You got to commit to be humble enough to learn,” Compton said. “See where you’re good at, get better at that. See where you’re bad at, get better at that. I see he’s been doing it and he’s been improving.” – Rappler.com