Though Blackwater fell short of its championship goal in the 2018 PBA Governors' Cup, American import Henry Walker believes the Elite are bound for greatness after achieving several milestones in the season-ending conference.
Blackwater suffered a 99-103 defeat to Magnolia on Tuesday in the quarterfinal phase that put an abrupt end to its drive for a first semifinal appearance and goal of going all the way for the conference crown.
Months of hard work may have gone down the drain, but the 6-foot-4 reinforcement would rather stick to the positives, noting the big improvement of playmaker John Nard Pinto and slotman John Paul Erram, along with the team's franchise-best 4-0 start and competing for a twice-to-beat advantage.
"I just look at the growth of the team, guys stepping up their games and being ready to contribute on the court," Walker told ESPN5 on Thursday.
"When I first got to Blackwater, it was a culture shock to some because I demand of them what they demand from me and that is to deliver every time we are on the court regardless if it practices or games. For me as an import, it allows me to pick my spots in the game and also allows my teammates to feel involved," he added.
Walker, who first came to the PBA as Alaska's import in the Governors' Cup, said one guy he challenged to step up this conference is Pinto.
"I told everyone Nard is a game changer and he answered my challenge to him. I challenged him to dedicate himself to being the best he can be," shared the 31-year-old NBA veteran. "If you know Nard, he is a very quiet person but he has the ability to play loudly."
The stocky Pinto is coming off a breakthrough season for the Elite after averaging career-high numbers of 11.64 points, 6.27 assists and 3.91 rebounds, while leading the tournament in three-point shooting with 65%.
"I'm excited for him because he is setting himself up to be a great point guard in this league and that's the most valuable asset you can have in the PBA," explained Walker, who had stints with the Boston Celtics, the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat in the NBA. "Now the challenge for Nard is to prove that this wasn't just a career conference but the introduction of one of the top tier point guards."
Heading to next season, Walker hopes the lessons learned from the 2018 Governors' Cup will translate from just being able to "compete with the big dogs to beating them."
"We are a young team and a young franchise. We learned that we can compete with the big dogs, but competing with and beating those teams are two different things. We proved we have the talent, now it's just finishing teams off and that's when we will see the next level of success," stressed Walker.
Heading to the 2019 All-Filipino conference, the do-it-all Blackwater import has high expectations from the 6-foot-8 Erram to captain the Elite to greater heights.
Erram, a virtual unknown when he came to the PBA in 2014, earned his first All-Star appearance this season and played for Gilas Pilipinas in the Asian Games and the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifier recently. The former Ateneo backup big man averaged 11.63 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.38 assists this conference.
"In order for Blackwater to take the next step, he has to become the rock, the foundation," noted Walker on Erram. "I see a lot of myself in Poy. People misunderstand his passion and intensity for a bad attitude, but what people don't understand is that when you come from humble beginnings and claw your way to a level of positivity and stability from this beautiful game of basketball, it turns you into a beast. That will to win and give your all to a game that's given him so much you can understand his passion.
"I'm proud of Poy's growth. From overcoming injury to (becoming an) All-Star to playing and representing his country. Look how far he has come, but my challenge to him is to not be satisfied by the success that you have now but to be even more hungry work even harder because he has the ability to dominate," he added.
Walker said after his Blackwater stint, he'll just recover from a bad ankle sprain he suffered in practice, before weighing his options.
Blackwater team owner Dioceldo Sy said they intend to bring back Walker for the Governors' Cup next season.
Walker averaged 25.27 points, 13.27 rebounds and 5.82 assists for the Elite in the season-ending conference.