MANILA, Philippines – Chris Lutz and Jay Washington are two highly-touted basketball players in the Philippines. When they entered the PBA, expectations oozed from coaches, players, and fans.
Lutz is a dangerous gunner from NCAA Division I squad Marshall University. In 2011, he was recruited by then Smart-Gilas head coach Rajko Toroman.
The 6-foot-3 forward, who led Marshall in three-point scoring, became a tenacious defender and key scorer for the national team. He played a vital role in Smart Gilas' semifinal run in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan, China.
Chris Lutz was drafted 3rd overall in the 2011 PBA Draft by Petron and became an all star the year after. His intensity and presence at the wings made him a terrific athlete.
Jay Washington also shares a rich background. He suited up for the Welcoat Paintmasters way back in the now defunct Philippine Basketball League (PBL). He was drafted 1st overall in the 2005 PBA Draft and played for Talk 'N Text.
From 2010-2011, Washington played his finest year, coveting the back to back Best Player of the Conference awards with the San Miguel Beermen.
He became a constant force in the league with his versatility and his ability to play all frontcourt positions. He was also included in the Mythical first team thrice.
But just when both players were on a roll, Lutz and Washington were struck with injuries that halted their PBA campaigns.
Lutz suffered a fractured rib last February which sidelined him for 6 weeks. Washington, meanwhile, played an injury-riddled 2012 season which saw his numbers dip drastically.
Their respective team needed them but questions loomed whether the two can get back to top shape. Petron had more key players hurting while Washington's new team, Globalport, failed to advance to the playoffs last conference.
Washington rises from injury, doubt
Injury was not the only thing that hobbled Washington. His detractors declared his career is over. The Globalport big man found himself attacked and insulted. Doubt entered the picture.
"Everybody basically said I was done. (They) feel like I couldn't play basketball anymore. They've basically given up on me," shared Washington. "It's hard to feel from everybody like I wasn't gonna be that player anymore."
But he didn't let those thoughts get into his head. He believed in what he could do. His competitive fire made it easier for him to return and get back to his deadly form.
“I had confidence in myself. I still believed in what I can do as a player. I'm still in my prime. I still have a lot of basketball left in me."
Through six games in the Philippine Cup, Washington quickly erased doubts and powered the young Globalport crew. He put up team-high averages of 20.83 PPG and 10.33 RPG, better than his stat line when he won back-to-back BPC plums. (READ: Leaders step up anew as GlobalPort downs Rain or Shine)
The natural competitor in Washington helped him get back to his top form. He learned how to rise from a forgettable PBA season and now, he’s back as one of the best players in the league.
"I dont want to play bad games. I expect a lot out of myself. I'm starting to be the player that I should be."
Lutz steers Petron's fluid offense
Injuries sidelined Petron's key players when they started their Philippine Cup drive. Their top two point guards, Alex Cabagnot and Chris Ross, were both hurt leaving a huge hole in a very important position.
Chris Lutz, who never played the point guard back in college, played the court general role for the hottest PBA team right now - the Blaze Boosters sit atop the Philippine Cup standings with a perfect 6-0 record.
Prior to Petron's win against Air 21, Lutz' unselfish attitude earned him 7.75 assists per match, twice as much as his average last year and second-best in the league right at the time.
He is also averaging 16.80 points and 5.6 rebounds in 5 games played.
Having great teammates like June Mar Fajardo and Marcio Lassiter helped compliment his style of play.
"I like playing unselfish basketball, making right plays and finding open guys. I just drive and kick to him (Lassiter) and I just find guys (like Fajardo) inside the paint," said Lutz.
With key players nursing injuries, it seemed Lutz felt how badly Petron needed him to step up. He obliged and learned to take care of his body a lot better now.
“It’s been a tough time in this team. It’s like every conference I’ve gotten something—broken rib, hamstring. I just learned from it,” he added.
Encountering an injury is normal for a basketball player. Some fall down hard but Lutz and Washington knew the importance of rising again. They conquered injury-riddled periods of their career and are now moving forward, stronger than ever. – Rappler.com