MANILA, Philippines – The San Mig Super Coffee Mixers, now known as the Purefoods Star Hotshots, are two championships shy from tying one of the most long-lasting records to stand in PBA history.
From the third conference of the PBA’s maiden season in 1975 until the Open Conference in 1977, the historic Crispa Redmanizers won six straight PBA championships led by the super play of Philippine basketball legends like Atoy Co, Bogs Adornado, Philip Cezar, and Freddie Hubalde, to name a few.
In the upcoming 2014-2015 PBA season that begins this Sunday, October 19, the Hotshots, coming off four straight championships and a Grand Slam, have the opportunity to become just the second franchise ever to win six straight rings if they come out on top in this season’s Philippine Cup and Commissioner’s Cup conferences.
If they could also add the 2015 Governors’ Cup championship, they would break Crispa’s 34-year record by winning seven straight titles and create an unprecedented feat of their own: winning consecutive Grand Slams.
“I’m challenging you to try and win six straight championships like we did at Crispa,” Co dared Purefoods head coach Tim Cone during the 2014 PBA Press Corps Awarding Night where Cone was named the 2013-2014 PBA Coach of the Year.
Many regard Cone, owner of 18 PBA rings, as the greatest coach ever in Philippine basketball. But even the multiple-champion, like everyone else, has yet to attain back-to-back Grand Slams.
But despite having the chance at history on the horizon, Purefoods isn’t going to let that veer them away from the mentality that has helped them remain undisputed for more than a year now in the PBA.
“It hasn’t changed from before. We are not a goal-orientated team,” Purefoods stretch forward Joe Devance said to Rappler in an exclusive interview on Thursday, October 16.
“We are a growth-orientated team,” he explained. “Meaning we already won championships. And that’s the ultimate goal. So now what?”
He elaborated, talking about “growth” and how every day provides the Star Hotshots to improve on their cohesiveness and move a step closer to winning even more titles.
“Usually teams that win will let up. So we focus on just getting better every day. We try to grow as individuals and grow as a team.”
Purefoods will have huge targets on their back. They are four-time defending champions, and as WWE legend Ric Flair would say, “To be the man, you have to beat the man.”
The man in the PBA right now is Devance’s team. They will receive the best out of every opponent on every given night they play.
Does that add pressure for the defending champions?
Their rivals shouldn’t count on it.
“We have no pressure on us to do anything,” Devance says. “[We] just take it day by day improving and pushing each other to be the best teammate we can be for each other.”
No PBA team has taken down Purefoods since mid-2013 in a playoff series, giving them all the reason to be confident heading into their title defense this season.
But the opening chapters of their journey may prove challenging with their heart and soul hustle man and national team favorite, Marc Pingris, scheduled to miss a few games.
“Mga two weeks ako mawawala. And then pa-condition na rin ako. Plano ko lang talaga from now, mga 10 days nang pahinga, and then tama na yun,” Pingris told Rappler a few weeks ago.
(I’ll be out for two weeks so that I can condition myself. My plan is to rest for 10 days, and that will be enough.)
Assuming he’s out for 10 days, Pingris, who averaged 9.8 PPG and 7.4 RPG last season, should be back for San Mig Coffee’s October 31, Friday, game against the Global Port Batang Pier at 7:00 pm at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum, after missing his club’s first two games against the re-tooled Alaska Aces and the always-dangerous San Miguel Beermen.
“The absence of Ping will be huge,” said Devance, who averaged 9.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, and 2.3 APG last season, and will be given the task to shoulder much of the load with Pingris out.
“Everyone will have to do his part defensively and offensively.”
SMC’s play was uneven to start the latest PBA conference, the 2014 Governors’ Cup, as they exchanged wins and losses throughout the elimination round, finishing at 5-4 and at fourth place.
During the 2013-2014 Philippine Cup and Commissioner’s Cup, the Mixers finished the eliminations with 7-7 (fifth place) and 4-5 (sixth place) records, respectively.
In all three times, they managed to turn on the switch in the playoffs, as is evident by the three championships on their mantle.
But Devance thinks it’s best if the team doesn’t play with fire anymore.
“Starting off on a good note is going to be vital this conference. So hopefully we can do that.”
“Kaya nila yan. Wag lang lumaki yung ulo nila na galing kami sa Grand Slam. Kailangan lang talaga mag-laro na, syempre, gutom parin para makuha ulit yung semis,” said Pingris, confident about his teammates’ ability to make do without him during the opening stretches of the season.
(They can do it. Their heads just better not get big since we came from a Grand Slam. We need to play hungry so we can get to the semis.)
Aside from Devance, Coach Cone will have to rely on is second-year man Ian Sangalang, who despite being a rookie played like a tested and seasoned veteran in key stretches for San Mig during their Grand Slam run.
Sangalang, who averaged 7.5 PPG and 5 RPG last season, fits that last role well. Justin Melton, whose pesky defense and athleticism seemed to always wake up his team during their rough stretches last season, also will be looked to in the coming season.
“These two guys are great people and excellent talent. They are both learning Coach Tim’s system – where their spots are going to be in the triangle and learning our defense,” Devance said about the two sophomores. “I’m so proud to have those guys as my teammates.”
How about the changing of team name from San Mig Coffee to Purefoods, how does he feel about that?
“I’m really happy to actually be apart of the team that’s called Purefoods,” he says. “I’ve been a part of the franchise but not so much the actual name ‘Purefoods.’”
“People would ask me what team I play for and I would say B-Meg (former team name) or San Mig Coffee and they would look at me like, ‘what team is that?’”
“So then, [now] I would say we are the new Purefoods and they would get all happy.”
But regardless of which brand Devance and his teammates wear across the front of their jerseys, nothing gets fans riled up more than the mention of one specific player's name.
“If I know James Yap,” he joked.“Aaaaaaah!” would be their (fans) reaction.