The San Miguel Beermen accomplished something that has never been done in the PBA by winning four-straight Philippine Cup titles. The starting unit is one of the best the country has ever seen. Headlined by four-time PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo with former MVP Arwind Santos, Finals MVPs Alex Cabagnot and Chris Ross, and arguably the league's best shooting guard in Marcio Lassiter, this edition of the Beermen may be one of, if not the best team, ever assembled.
ESPN5 asked some coaches of former Philippine Cup champions to compare the rosters they fielded to coach Leo Austria's personnel, and possible tactics they would use to defeat the Beermen.
This edition will feature an SMB versus SMB battle with coach Jong Uichico's champion squad in 2001 featuring Danny Ildefonso, Nic Belasco, Danny Seigle, Freddie Abuda, and Olsen Racela.
Here is the transcript of our interview with Uichico.
We were big across the board. We did not have 6-foot-9 centers but we were big in almost all positions. We forced the teams to match-up with us rather than we match-up with them. Since we had the opportunity to play big, we never ran the ball. We had an advantage in the half-court at any given time. We just walked the ball up and give the ball to DI or DS or whoever we thought had the mismatch.
What set that team apart was really their chemistry. We had a lot of talented players but they were all more than willing to share the ball. The only thing that mattered to them was winning games and winning championships, not the personal awards.
Danny Ildefonso vs. June Mar Fajardo
Both players are very skilled. They can shoot the jump shot, put the ball of the floor, back down their defender. Both also have great attitude. They're both very humble and coachable. In all aspects of the game, they're both very similar except for their size. It's only size that sets apart these two MVPs.
If you made Danny I 6-foot-9 in height, then he would have been a more dominant player during his time as June Mar is dominant now.
Danny Seigle vs. Arwind Santos
I'll probably put DS on Arwind because he turns into a spot-up shooter with their current system.
On defense, they would cancel each other out. I think DS can guard Arwind better than if he's matched up with a smaller player like Lassiter. Offensively, DS has an advantage over Arwind just because of size.
If his second stringers, then you can give your starters more rest. It really depends on the performance of the bench.
DS was such a great offensive player. He goes right every single time. The defenders know it. The crowd knows it. But still no one could stop him. His defenders did everything they can to take away his right but he always found a way to go to his right. Eventually he developed a one-dribble pull-up jumper going to his left but that was it.
Back then when he drives, he just out-jumps his defender and stays in the air for a split-second longer. His defenders would be on their way down already but he would remain in the air to shoot his jumper. That was how athletic he was and that's why he became a great offensive player.
If he's against a smaller defender, he can back him down. If he's against a bigger, slower player, he can face him up. He was so versatile and only his injuries could slow him down.
Even if he was a great offensive player, he was a very willing passer. He didn't mind DI getting all the MVP awards because we won championships. He didn't mind personal awards.
Nic Belasco vs. Marcio Lassiter
Marcio can put the ball on the floor but he's really more of a perimeter jump shooter. Probably the length of Nic would make it tougher for Marcio to take shots. Of course we all know the talent of Marcio, he's a really good scorer so Nic will just be there to make things a little for difficult for him. Nic was very athletic even for a big man but he does not have the speed of Marcio.
We did not rely on Nic to score, just play defense so if he makes Marcio shoot worse than his normal, then that's a win for us even if he outscores Nic by a lot.
Freddie Abuda vs. Chris Ross
Freddie is a great student of the game. Whoever he is matched up with defensively, he'll make sure to study the opponent's moves and contain him the best way he can. Whether it works or not is of course another matter and that's where in-game adjustments come in.
Olsen Racela vs. Alex Cabagnot
Olsen is not as strong as Alex or as quick as Chris but he survived all those years in the PBA because of his smarts. He manages the game really well. He's a coach on the basketball court. Olsen will have a tough time stopping Alex on his own but we were more about team defense than individual defense.
There's no debate that they are the best all-Filipino team in the past four years. It does not mean that you cannot beat them at any given series.
Since our SMB team was together for so long, we can adjust on the fly. The chemistry with that group was so good that one look or one signal is already enough to tell your teammates what adjustments they needed to do.
Coach Leo's team is so good in reading the game. When you show them a defensive ploy once, then they already know it's coming and they'll know how to adjust, especially June Mar and Alex. Once you show something, there's a huge chance that they will know what to do next time they see it. They're able to adapt to different situations.
We can give them different looks and we execute very well, especially with our double teams and we double-teamed all the time back then, which is what all the teams are doing with June Mar.
On offense, because we have size, we can post up anybody. Of course the rules then are very different from what we have now. They can play zone so that would cancel out a lot of what we want to do in the post. It might not be a good idea against the zone.
I think any team has a shot against any other team, especially if you're talking about former champions because we all know how difficult it is to win the Philippine Cup. It means that the teams went through their own versions of adversity and overcame these to win a title without the help of an import.
If we could neutralize June Mar without double-teaming every single time. The less June Mar has the ball, the better it is for us.
DI cannot handle June Mar one-on-one throughout the game. No one can handle June Mar one-on-one for an entire game. It's about the defensive game plan.
The 2018 SMB team could be the best starting five of all-time because they've won four Philippine Cup titles. No one can argue with the results. No one has done it before. We won the title in 2001 but we could not even defend it because we lost in the semis the next year. They've been the PBA's most dominant team in the past four years and they could easily do this for two to three more years.