THE hardship the players went through in this challenging time of the pandemic are more than enough motivation for the MJAS Zenith Talisay to go for the inaugural championship of the Pilipinas VisMin Super Cup.
Veteran guard Paolo Hubalde and team manager Jhon Santos both agreed winning the title has been the main goal of the ballclub the moment the idea to join the upstart regional league was first branched out as early as December.
“Ang goal talaga is kunin yung championship. History yan e, first na magcha-champion so might as well kunin mo na yung pinaka-goal,” said Santos.
“Kaya naman tayo sumasali sa mga liga para manalo ng championship,” added Hubalde, 40. “Na-bond na yung team ng panahon, buo na last year pa. Kaya yung chemistry namin nandun na. This is not just a team, but a family na.”
Santos and Hubalde appeared in the weekly Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) online Forum on Tuesday along with Puma PH Senior Manager For Sales Marketing and Operations Michael Aldover, who they deeply thanked for coming to the team when the chips were down.
The core of the Aquastars are the same players that form the Valenzuela City team in the MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League), which unfortunately couldn’t resume its remaining season following the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.
With players and team personnel left groping in the dark, Santos decided to take their act in the newly-established pro league exclusively in the South, and found perfect partners in the local government of Talisay and of course, Puma which serves as the Aquastars’ official outfitter.
“Kumbaga sa hospital nasa ICU na kami at nilabas nila kami sa ICU. Kaya hindi namin ito makakalimutan,” said Santos in the weekly session presented by San Miguel Corp., Go For Gold, MILO, Amelie Hotel Manila, Braska Restaurant, and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR).
“Very competitive yung team and natumbok ni Paolo on how to describe them. It’s really a family,” added Aldover in the same forum powered by Smart and with Upstream Media as official webcast partner.
“Maganda yung blend ng team at yung relationship ng mga players.”
Santos said the Aquastars will be leaving for Cebu on March 16 to officially start its team practices as training in Manila has been limited to individual workouts in compliance with the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases) guidelines.
Once the team is cleared from testing and other health protocols, the Aquastars will proceed to the municipality of Alcantara where the Visayas leg of the Super Cup kicks off on April 9.
Hubalde considers the ARQ Builders Lapu-Lapu City Heroes as the toughest team to contend in the Visayas leg, with former PBA players Jojo Tangkay and Jerick Canada leading the way.
“Yung team ng Lapu-Lapu. Of course, we’re not overlooking the other teams, respeto pa rin sa kanila. But we believe we can win the championship,” said the son of PBA great Freddie Hubalde.
Coached by former San Sebastian standout Aldrin Morante, with PBA legend Bong Alvarez as consultant, the Aquastars are also made up of Patrick Cabahug, Val Acuna, Tristan Albina, Darell Shane Menina, Lugie Cuyos, Kevin Villafranca, Joshua Dela Cerna, Jaymar Gimpayan, Lord Casajeros, Egie Boy Mojica, Steven Cudal, Allan Dominic Santos, Mel Francis Mabigat, and Jhaymo Eguilos.
The winner of the Visayas leg will meet the champion of the Mindanao leg – to be held in Zamboanga City – for the Super Cup national championship.