The start of the new year has proven to be a good one for Alab Pilipinas after winning its last three games to become a legitimate title contender in the ASEAN Basketball League.
Alab opened 2017 with a road victory over the struggling Kaohsiung Truth, and was coming off a productive weekend that saw the Philippine side beat the league-leading Singapore Slingers and the defending champion Westports Malaysia Dragons.
Those wins enabled Alab to forge a tie for second place at 5-2 with the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions, whom they play on Sunday in the former British colony. The Slingers lead the competition with their 7-2 mark.
Much of the team’s success has been credited to the big moves Alab made during the holiday break when they enlisted the services of Americans Sampson Carter and James Hughes in lieu of Korean brothers Seung Jun Lee and Dong Jun Lee.
While the numbers of both imports have been unimpressive so far—they failed to score in double figures in the last two games—Alab Pilipinas coach Mac Cuan doesn’t see it as a hindrance.
“They’re giving us what we need with their inside presence. We can match up with the bigs of the other team,” said Cuan, the former La Salle playmaker and PBA cager whose stint with Alab is his first head coaching stint.
Carter and Hughes were expected to ease off the responsibilities of former N.U. Bulldogs standout Ray Parks Jr., obviously Alab’s biggest star.
Parks, who was signed by Alab after he had failed to make the cut with the Westchester Knicks of the NBA D-League, is not only the Philippine team’s star, but also one of the league’s best.
He is among the best scorers of the league with 22.7 ppg, including a record-setting 41-point performance against the Truth last December. That offensive outburst was the highest for a local player since the ABL opened shop in 2009.
But since the winning streak began, Parks has also gotten some big help from fellow local players Jeric Fortuna, Val Acuña, Hans Thiele, and JR Cawaling.
Fortuna and Acuña saw their production go up during the winning streak, and have been hitting big shots when it mattered.
No stranger to the ABL being former players of the 2013 champion San Miguel Beermen, Fortuna and Acuña knocked down back-to-back threes that gave Alab an 86-77 road win over Kaohsiung last Jan. 8.
Fortuna also hit a pair of threes in the fourth quarter as Alab survived Singapore, 74-72, in front of its home fans on Friday the 13th at the Alonte Sports Arena in Binan, Laguna.
Two days later, it was Thiele and Cawaling’s turn to shine. Overlooked for most of the early goings of the season, the two players, also former San Miguel ABL mainstays, made timely contributions that helped the team triumphed overMalaysia in Cyberjaya, 65-51.
Thiele came through with six points and seven rebounds, but it was Cawaling who topscored for Alab with 11 points in what turned out to be an emotional day for the former FEU standout.
Cawaling had his best game in an Alab uniform a day after his brother passed away. His corner three during the homestretch gave the visitors a 63-51 lead, enough to seal the victory.
Also making an impression is Fil-American Lawrence Domingo, who despite some moments of miscues has been providing the hustle and energy for the Alab cagers.
“Alab Pilipinas is all about providing opportunities for the players. Those released in the PBA, they have a home here,” Cuan told the ABL’s official website after the Dragons encounter.
“And when you work hard enough, good things happen to you. That’s what happened to our bench players. All of their hard work during practice, even if they were not sure if they’d get minutes, are finally paying off.”
Parks had his lowest scoring output of the season with nine points, but he is likely the first person who wouldn’t mind such number as long as Alab gets the win.
But as the ABL season continues, more is expected from the team that will try to become the third from the Philippines to capture the title in the regional league.
And it will take not just Ray Parks Jr. to carry Alab to the Promised Land.