The team may be struggling but coach Gabby Severino is hopeful that new players can turn the season around.
Bob Guerrero on Oct 18, 2019 11:19 AM
“I'd like to think we are an unselfish team. We share the ball, if you look at our stats we have around 20 assists per game. There are always different people shining, we don't have one star." - Gabby Severino
Coach Gabby Severino barks instructions to his Navotas Uni-Pak Sardines players while they run a half-court scrimmage in the Acropolis Gym in Pasig.
He is told that his trainings are intense, and this is his reply: “Practices are intense because I make them that way. I don't want the players to think that just because they are in this league they can't just walk around. You still have to work hard. That is the culture I want to establish. They work hard, practice hard, then the results will come.”
Unfortunately for Severino, results have been hard to come by for Navotas Uni-Pak. The team is fourth from bottom in the North Division with a 4-11 slate. A run at a playoff spot is still within reach, but the odds are against them.
There have been some bright moments this season, the most notable being the record 125-point output in the win over Nueva Ecija last July. In that game they out-assisted their foes 38-21.
But Severino is somewhat dismissive of that freakish night. “That game was a bit of a fluke. I'd rather have more consistency.”
The good news is that Severino has three new toys to play with, all acquired during the recent trading window.
Mark Anthony “Dudu” Guillen is a 6'4” power forward who came over from the Pampanga Giant Lanterns. Severino says Guillen is “experienced, has a good touch from outside. He's a banger, he's smart and big enough to defend the post.”
Also coming aboard is 6'2" Joecel Prudente, who previously played for Bacoor as a homegrown player. “He will bring energy in defense and strength, we are kind of thin in the guard spot,” explains the coach, who can deploy Prudente as a two guard or three. “He penetrates hard, he has the body to do that,” adds the coach.
The third new piece of the puzzle is the athletic Jesper Bautista, a 6'4" wing. “I'll play him as a 3 first and I'll see what happens,” reveals Severino. “We are not that tall a team so maybe I can get a little more height. He has guard skills and attacks well. Jesper's a good defender and I like his energy. It's just his shooting can be better.” Navotas shipped Brylle Ivan Meca to Bataan for the former Arellano Chief.
These three new cogs will hopefully work well with Navotas' standout player this season, forward Jhong Bondoc, who was roped in via John Flores, coach of the Community Basketball Association's General Trias Braves. Severino points to the big guy with cupping marks on his shoulders. “Bondoc is an undersized big (6'3”) who works hard, rebounds well, is a fighter, a tough guy, who can shoot the three pointer. In my system we encourage the bigs to shoot from outside, as basketball is going all over the world. Bigs are bigger guards who can shoot outside,” says the coach.
But it's plain to see that Navotas does not have the talent of the best teams in the league. The team was only assembled a week before the season began, so the top-tier players had all been snapped up. Coach Gabby hopes to counter the talent deficit with his system. “I'd like to think we are an unselfish team. We share the ball, if you look at our stats we have around 20 assists per game. There are always different people shining, we don't have one star. We were late getting the team, we don't have the best talent to work with, but that's okay if as the players are willing to sacrifice personal glory for the team.”
Severino says there are lots of details in his system, which he describes as a European-style motion offense with “pockets of Ateneo in both offense and defense.” Severino is an assistant in Tab Baldwin's Blue Eagle team, and has been so for ages. Severino says the Navotas scheme utilizes plenty of backdoor-cut handoffs as well as elements of a classic pick and roll. The coach admits that even with the Blue Eagles, details of the system are sometimes forgotten. Naturally that also happens with his Navotas charges.
The vastly different cultures and backgrounds of the two teams also present a challenge when he tries to introduce tactical concepts. “It's like trying to get them to like caviar or sushi, when maybe they have grown up eating daing na bangus,” says Severino. “You have to temper expectations. But they are learning.”
Last Monday Navotas put their offensive and defense in play against the Quezon City Capitals.
Bondoc led the way with 20 points and Guillen was solid with 11. Mark Matillano was clutch, knocking in a pair of late charities to force overtime. But QC prevailed in the extension, 98-97. It was a bitter loss but Severino can take solace that they took a team higher than them in the standings into an extra five minutes.
There is plenty to look forward to in Navotas. Their much maligned home court, the Navotas Sports Complex, is set for a date with the wrecking ball, and will be replaced with a new multi-storey, multi-purpose facility.
Team owner Rico Quicho and city mayor Toby Tiangco, as well as congressman John Rey Tiangco appear staunchly committed to the franchise. The team may be in the bottom half of the standings, but Navotas is looking to the future in the knowledge that hard work will be their key to success.