The Magnolia Hotshots knew they were a good team. Three appearances in the semifinals last season proved that. The question was whether they could finally break the glass ceiling and if they could win a championship without James Yap and Tim Cone.
Good big men in PBA are hard to come by and, luckily for the Hotshots, they have one in Ian Sangalang. However, head coach Chito Victolero knew that although his bigs will have to make it tough for the opposing team, it is his guards that will truly set them apart. His rotation of Paul Lee, Mark Barroca, Jio Jalalon, and PJ Simon can lead to multiple combinations on offense and defense. Victolero usually had a three-guard lineup on the floor. They may have been smaller than their opponents but they made up for it with their moxie.
They started the season by pulling off a big move in the 2017 PBA Rookie Draft. With three picks late in the first and early in the second round, Victolero knew that they would not have space for all these new acquisitions on their roster so they chose quality over quantity, trading away their picks in Lervin Flores, Joseph Gabayni, and Julian Sargent for the sixth overall pick in Robbie Herndon.
The Hotshots have always been a good team in the Philippine Cup. Magnolia complied an 8-3 record, enough to claim the second spot in the standings which came with a twice-to-beat advantage. The Hotshots stumbled early in their quarterfinal match against the GlobalPort Batang Pier but they ultimately recovered to qualify for the semifinals.
Disaster struck Magnolia in the semifinals as they lost Marc Pingris due to an ACL tear against NLEX but fate was also not kind to the Road Warriors as Kevin Alas suffered the same injury.
With both teams shaken up by injuries to key guys, Magnolia's experience set them apart as they eliminated the Road Warriors, 4-2, for the right to challenge the defending champion San Miguel Beermen in the finals.
Magnolia shocked the three-time defending Philippine Cup champions by winning Game 1 but that would only wake up the Beermen as they won the next four games including a double-overtime classic in Game 5.
In the Commissioner's Cup, Magnolia thought they struck gold by getting the services of Vernon Macklin. In his first PBA stint, he carried the Barangay Ginebra Kings all the way to the 2013 PBA Commissioner's Cup Finals. Magnolia complied a 3-1 tally with Macklin but soon had to depart due to a better offer elsewhere. This sent the Hotshots scampering for a replacement. They signed Curtis Kelly but quickly let him go as they lost two games with him. Kelly was replaced by Justin Jackson but he too was replaced after only winning one of three games. Finally, Magnolia settled for another PBA veteran in Wayne Chism.
The veteran import led Magnolia to back-to-back wins at the end of the elimination round. However, they finished tied with Barangay Ginebra and San Miguel Beer for the fifth to the seventh spots. Unfortunately for the Hotshots, they had the inferior quotient, dropping them to the seventh spot and a twice-to-win advantage against the second-seeded Alaska Aces.
It was a battle between two teams that lost their first-choice import but the good thing for the Aces was that they were more familiar and had more games with replacement import Diamon Simpson, eliminating Magnolia in the quarterfinals in the just one game.
Magnolia banked on another returning PBA import for their Governors' Cup campaign; one who had the pedigree with a Best Import of the Conference award under his belt and, more importantly, a big chip on his shoulder.
Romeo Travis first suited up in the PBA for the Alaska Aces in the 2015 Governors' Cup where he carried them all the way to the Finals only to be swept by Arizona Reid and the rest of the San Miguel Beermen. After that, Alaska decided to move forward without giving him an opportunity to try again.
Travis provided the veteran presence for Magnolia as he pushed his younger teammates to perform well. The Hotshots only lost three games in the elimination round. They did not need the twice-to-beat advantage as they eliminated the Blackwater Elite immediately in the quarterfinals to set them up with a gigantic battle against the two-time defending Governors' Cup champion Barangay Ginebra.
While many felt that Ginebra had the personnel and experience advantage, the Hotshots played like the hungrier team from the opening tip. Their guard rotation composed caused many problems for Ginebra's backcourt. Victolero also found a way to make Greg Slaughter close to unplayable in the series, which effectively took out Ginebra's size advantage. Disaster almost struck for Magnolia as Travis suffered a hamstring injury heading into Game 4 but this would only inspire him to play the best game of his PBA career as he finished with 50 points to eliminate the Kings.
It was only fitting for Romeo that his road to the championship had to go through the his former squad. Magnolia jumped the gun on the Aces as they won the first two games of the 2018 PBA Governors' Cup Finals but the Aces recovered to tie the series at two-wins apiece due to the spirited effort of import Mike Harris. However, Magnolia got a couple of lucky breaks and a big shot from Lee in Game 5 to take the series advantage before stamping their class on the Vic Manuel-less Aces in Game 6 to end their four-season drought and give their coach his first ever PBA title.
What Magnolia Needs
It's easy to say that Magnolia does not need anything else as they are coming off a championship but with the San Miguel Beermen already retooling for the upcoming Philippine Cup, the rest of the field will also have to make adjustments. They selected forward Michael Calisaan with the 10th pick of the 2018 PBA Rookie Draft and although he could eat up some minutes at the three spot, the Hotshots could use another scoring option at the forward position.
In the Philippine Cup, all the attention of the defense will be on the guards and Sangalang so it would be best for them to try and make a move to add another solid power forward since there may not be any solid centers in the market.