For coaches out there, have you imagined yourself in a position to take over as head coach of a team days before the start of the tournament?
We’re not just talking about a team, but we’re referring to a professional basketball team competing in the Philippine Basketball Association playing under a unique Bubble set up, where each participating squad barely had time to prepare.
Topex Robinson had to take over as interim coach of the Phoenix Super LPG Fuelmasters to replace Louie Alas, a tough task being given to someone who served as an assistant coach for the past few years, but has no experience coaching a PBA squad.
More than just presiding as Phoenix’s new coach, Robinson faced a more challenging situation.
In a Bubble set up, teams that are more talented clearly have the advantage over the rest of the field, given the time constraints to prepare after being idle for nine months. Phoenix doesn’t have that kind of talent of powerhouse teams like San Miguel, Ginebra or TNT, yet Robinson was able to bring out the gas up to the last drop to keep his team running smoothly.
More challenging were the uncertainties in the squad. Prior to the restart of the Philippine Cup, Calvin Abueva served a 16-month suspension before he was finally allowed to return on Oct. 26.
Without Abueva, Robinson was able to prepare the Fuelmasters to play at a higher level, drawing solid games from Matthew Wright, Jason Perkins and Justin Chua.
Wright is the second leading scorer in the tournament, averaging 22.8 points per game and is the front runner for the MVP derby with 39.5 statistical points average.
Running in second is his teammate, Perkins, who has been averaging close to a double-double every game. His numbers of 19.5 points and 9.5 rebounds every game are MVP numbers and it didn’t come as a surprise why he is now about to take over the second spot from CJ Perez, whose team Terrafirma is already out of the playoff race.
And then, there’s Chua, who has become the leading shot blocker in the league with an average of 1.7 rejections per game. Chua has redefined the role of a big man playing in the PBA as he has been getting most of his shots from the perimeter, even as far as the three-point region.
With Abueva back on board, Phoenix has become the new beast in the Bubble as his energy inspired the squad to play more aggressive, making them believe that they can be an elite squad under this new set up. This catapulted the Fuelmasters to finish second to Barangay Ginebra by the end of the elimination round, winning eight out of 11 games, the same record posted by the Gin Kings. By virtue of the win over the other rule, Ginebra was able to secure the No. 1 seed.
All these things happening at Phoenix was made possible by Robinson, who kept on harping that his team is just performing the best version of the players. That best version included him, which makes him a top choice for the Coach of the Year award.
Sure, Tim Cone of Barangay Ginebra was able to use the familiarity and the talent of the Gin Kings to the fullest, which is why they’re No.1. It’s true that Norman Black should also be given credit for the things he had done for Meralco — a first semifinals stint in the Philippine Cup in franchise history by beating the five-peat Philippine Cup champions San Miguel Beermen twice in a row in the quarterfinals.
But hats off to Robinson, too, for the transformation of a team that has had a turbulent past of usually finding themselves being ushered to the exit door early in almost every tournament the team had participated in.
And this early, allow me to say: ‘And here’s to you, Mr. Robinson’, for all the wonderful things you have done to your squad in what is now considered as the rise of the Phoenix Fuelmasters.