Despite falling short, Phoenix still did well despite the departure of its star gunner — Matthew Wright — in the Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner’s Cup.
Wright has been the heart and soul of the Fuel Masters.
He, however, decided to embark on a career with the Kyoto Hannaryz in the Japan B. League, raising speculations that the Fuel Masters will miss his veteran presence and scoring production in the midseason conference.
Compounding the Fuel Masters’ woes are the absence of premier forward Jason Perkins in their first seven games and the possible sale of the franchise after its mother company reportedly suffered financial blows.
Without Wright and Perkins, the Fuel Masters were projected to lose around 31 points and 13 rebounds per game aside from the intangibles that do not reflect on the scoresheet.
But it didn’t happen.
The Fuel Masters were able to turn things around, thanks to the inspired performances of young guns Tyler Tio and Encho Serrano.
A newcomer from Ateneo de Manila University, Tio averaged 12.0 points on 33.8 percent shooting clip from beyond the arc on top of a steady 84.4 percent from the charity stripe with 3.5 assists per game.
Serrano, on the other hand, averaged 12.3 points on close to 48 percent shooting from the field.
Even Phoenix coach Topex Robinson was surprised at how they were able to overcome Wright’s absence.
“Without Matthew and Perk, that’s combined 30-plus points that we’re going to lose,” said Robinson in a telephone conversation with Daily Tribune.
“Even our import is not a prolific scorer just like the other reinforcements, but he was definitely a good fit for us.”
Reinforcement Kaleb Wesson averaged only 18.5 points, but he was doing other productive things for the Fuel Masters.
He grabbed 16.9 rebounds and tallied close to two steals and two blocks per game and more importantly providing the inside presence the team badly needed, especially when Perkins was still recovering from a knee surgery.
With Tio, Serrano and Wesson running like a well-oiled machine, the Fuel Masters exceeded expectations and made it to the playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Fuel Masters, veteran guard RR Garcia was placed under health and safety protocols before running into a rock-solid Magnolia squad in the quarterfinals.
Still, Garcia believes the future looks bright for the Fuel Masters with young players like Tio and Serrano leading the charge.