MPBL: Bitoon – Dionisio tandem crucial to Manila's success
Bob Guerrero on Oct 04, 2019 09:50 AM
“They (Bitoon and Dionisio), are one of the best dynamic duos in the league, if not THE best." - Analyst Christian Luanzon
It happened in the second quarter of a tight game between Manila Stars – Frontrow and Navotas Uni-Pak Sardines last September 18.
Manila guard Chris Bitoon and forward Aris Dionisio remember the sequence well. The Stars were down 33-41 late in the second. Bitoon motored down the left flank while Dionisio took a position near the cup. The long-maned Bitoon floated the ball in the air and Dionisio converted the alley-oop. On their very next possession Bitoon stormed down the heart of the Navotas defense on a fast break. His defender tried to draw a charge in the paint but the guard supplied an artful bounce pass to a streaking Dionisio, who jammed the ball in for 37-41. 30 seconds of game time. Two highlight-reel plays. Frontrow would go on to win 96-91, with Dionisio finishing with 19 points, 8 rebounds and two blocks.
Bitoon and Dionisio are vital cogs in Manila's drive for an MPBL title in this Lakan Season. Their on-court chemistry is evident, and there is a good reason why: this is the second time they are teammates, having played alongside one another in St. Clare College, a NAASCU team, for one year.
“As teammates syempre alam na namin ang role namin sa isa’t isa and alam na namin ung galaw ng bawat isa, kaya kapag nagkasabay kami inside the court alam na namin kung ano dapat namin gawin,” explains Dionisio.
Dionisio and Bitoon didn't win the NAASCU in their year together but they did take silverware in an invitational tournament called MILCU GotSkills in 2016. And the teams they beat weren't pushovers.
The Saints denied FEU in the semis before beating DLSU 103-92 in the final. The Green Archers were without Jeron Teng and Ben Mbala, but were still a formidable side.
Manila is currently 13-2 this season and despite a frighteningly loaded roster, Bitoon and Dionisio can take a significant amount of credit.
Going into last Wednesday's tiff with Basilan, Bitoon was averaging a shade under 16 points and a surprising 4 and a half rebounds per game. The Quezon City native is also good for 5 dishes an outing and pilfers the ball just under twice a game.
Dionisio is arguably an even bigger star of the stat sheet. He averages 13.6 points and 8 rebounds a game. The son of Bustos, Bulacan is Manila's most prolific eraser of shots, with 3.21 stuffs a game.
Bitoon has nothing but praise for how his gangly wingman has developed. “Sobrang laki ng inimprove ni Aris. Kahit payat walang kinatatakutan sa court. Kami ni Aris talagang 101% ang binibigay namin every game. Walang ibang nasa isip kundi manalo lang ang Manila.”
“Noong nasa St. Clare kami magaling na siya, ngayon mas gumaling pa. Habang tumatagal po kasi mas marami pa kaming natututunan kaya nag i-improve din,” adds Bitoon.
Dionisio is similarly effusive in his praise for the 5'8” guard. “Si Chris Bitoon ibang-iba sa unang nakilala ko as a player. “Ngayon kasi mas matalino lumaro, mas bumilis. at talagang malaki na din naging improvement sa laro niya. Ang gusto ko sa laro niya, go hard to the basket talaga lagi. Hindi siya nagrerelax sa loob ng court.”
It isn't just their natural talent. Roman Ang from Manila management admits that “these two guys are two of the hardest workers in the team.”
There is a sense of humility as well. “Nakikibagay kami sa mga beterano at every game na may mistake, after the game pinapanood ko yung mali ko, kung bakit naka score ang kalaban or natalo kami. Higit sa lahat, nakikinig ako sa sasabihin ng mga beterano sa amin,” says Bitoon.
There is certainly no shortage of experienced players in the Frontrow roster who can give advice, with the likes of Marvin Hayes, Carlo Lastimosa, Gabby Espinas, Marcy Arellano, and Arvie Bringas among others.
The two stars were in action last Wednesday when Manila edged Basilan by a point. Bitoon started and had an off night shooting with only two points. But he notched four assists, none better than the laser-sharp needle-thread that fed Hayes for a bucket late in the fourth.
Dionisio, on the other hand, was a crunch time hero. With Manila down 65-62 late, Dionisio missed a close-range lay-up, spun around a defender, then grabbed the rebound and put the ball in. Then in the very next play, he smothered a Basilan shot, offloaded the rock, sprinted over to the other side of the court, where he received a pass and laid the ball in.
Analyst Christian Luanzon was so gobsmacked by Dionisio's play that he referred to him as “Plastikman.”
“He makes defense sexy,” says Luanzon of the 6'4” defensive specialist. “They (Bitoon and Dionisio), are one of the best dynamic duos in the league, if not THE best,” adds Luanzon.
It's no wonder that when asked if they pattern themselves after John Stockton and Karl Malone, Dionisio has a different model. “Siguro parang superhero nalang, parang Batman and Robin,” says the big man with a laugh.
“Kami po kasi ni Aris, we are more than teammates. Yung turing namin sa isa't-isa parang kapatid talaga, so for me mas masarap maglaro kapag yung kakampi mo is ka-close mo talaga like Aris, says Bitoon.
Manila are second in the North Division. Bitoon and Dionisio will need to ensure that their strong partnership can drive the Stars to an MPBL title.