MANILA, Philippines – New name, new uniform, new look, and a clean slate.
It was like the first day of school for the Phoenix Fuel Masters when they officially announced their entry into the PBA after purchasing the Barako Bull Energy franchise in January.
“It has always been a dream for us in the company and for me as a basketball enthusiast to to be part of this prestigious league,” said Phoenix Petroleum president and CEO Dennis Uy during a press conference for the team’s launch Wednesday, February 10 at Hotel Novotel in Araneta Center, Cubao.
“Filipinos live and breathe basketball and it is with much excitement and aspiration that we enter the PBA this season.”
Phoenix’s entry into Asia’s first professional basketball league is a dream come true 5 years in the making.
The Davao-based oil company with products that include diesel, gasoline, lubricants and jet fuel first reached out to the PBA with the intention of purchasing a franchise in 2011. They were told then the timing was not right and to try again after a few years.
Just last month the PBA Board unanimously approved the sale of the Barako Bull franchise to Phoenix, which also has a team in the PBA D-League, the Phoenix Petroleum-FEU Accelerators.
“I think they’ve been very patient. We’ve been talking about it, it’s very different when you start from scratch and now they acquired a competitive team,” said league commissioner Chito Narvasa. “In my opinion, I think this team is one or two big men away from being one of the best teams in the PBA. Good luck, have fun, and show us what you’ve got.”
The Fuel Masters have inherited a hungry franchise that has failed to go far in the playoffs after having changed its name several times since 2002.
“Just like how we built the Phoenix organization from a small enterprise into the number 1 independent oil company today, we will also build the Phoenix Fuel Masters into a competitive and winning team,” said Uy, also the team governor, who likewise vows full support and commitment to the company’s D-League team.
“This will take time as building any championship team does, but we are ready and committed to do our best for our team, our supporters, and our fans.”
“We guarantee that we will go out there raring to fight and fighting ’til the end,” added alternate team governor and Phoenix vice president Raymond Zorrilla. “We will all give each and every one a good fight knowing that the team is known for its passion, performance and we guarantee you that we will fight with integrity and enthusiasm.”
Phoenix will debut in the 2016 Commissioner’s Cup on Wednesday, February 17 against the NLEX Road Warriors. (SEE: 2016 PBA Commissioner’s Cup schedule)
The Fuel Masters tapped Nigerian Kenny Adeleke as their import this conference. Adeleke, who turned 33 today, is a well-traveled veteran who has played in Israel, Italy, Turkey, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico.
(INFOGRAPHIC: Meet the 2016 PBA Commissioner’s Cup imports)
“We are very excited about our campaign this second conference,” said head coach Koy Banal. “We brought in an import who we believe will be able to solve our problem inside.”
Adeleke, who arrived Saturday, February 6, is well aware of the PBA’s reputation for hard, physical play. And he believes he’ll fit in just fine.
“Rebounding, toughness, scoring inside the paint, just brining a lot of heart,” Adeleke shared what he would contribute to Phoenix. “I think the guys will feed off me, just playing hard so we could win.”
The team hopes to become a championship contender someday soon but for this conference Banal is setting realistic expectations.
“Our goal is just to be in the middle of the pack (at the end of the eliminations). I understand that 3, 4, 5, 6 (seeded) teams will be best-of-3 (in the playoffs). Hopefully from there we’ll take off.”
The Fuel Masters (then the Energy) had a decent finish in the 2015 Governors’s Cup last year, coming in as the 6th seed in the playoffs and losing to twice-to-beat Rain or Shine in double overtime during the quarterfinals. In the previous Philippine Cup, the team was the 8th seed and lost to twice-to-beat Globalport in phase 1 of the quarterfinals.
So far Phoenix has no transactions planned. They have two first round picks for this year’s draft and they plan to wait and see what they will do with it.
“For us to win championships, it’s all about mentality, players, and passion,” Zorrilla said. “We leave that to the coach to provide us with players who would give us that 3-dimensional aspects and we’ll take it from there.”
Expected to lead the team are JC Intal, Willy Wilson, Josh Urbiztondo and RR Garcia, who returns after being sidelined due to a shoulder injury since December. – Rappler.com
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