NorthPort's bad break in the PBA Commissioner's Cup playoffs, where it had its twice-to-beat advantage in the first round negated by eventual champions San Miguel, is already a thing of the past for head coach Pido Jarencio.
"San Miguel is San Miguel. If it were another team, we could have beaten them. The Beermen were champions. Us here, we'll just keep improving our defense and our offense just needs to have that flow. And the new players need to jell with the old ones," he told ESPN5.com in Filipino.
"[Our preparation is focused] more on conditioning, and we're setting up the defense for the new guys so come September 20, we're ready."
There are many reasons to look forward to what lies ahead if you're the Batang Pier, especially after posting a franchise-best 9-2 record last conference. The team's success still begins and ends with rookie guard Robert Bolick, who continues to establish himself as a budding star in the league, but one doesn't have to look too far to see that any progress NorthPort could make won't solely hinge on him.
Aside from the presence of new Batang Pier fixtures Sol Mercado, Kevin Ferrer and Jervy Cruz -- who all could give NorthPort's already potent bench (42.77 per game, second-best last conference) some additional firepower in the upcoming Governors' Cup -- the team will also benefit from the arrival of another spitfire guard in Jerramy King.
"I'm just really excited, man. I'm happy to be here. I'm happy to play with Mo [Tautuaa] and the other guys. This team's really good," a grinning King said.
King, who was acquired from Columbian in a trade last August, broke out for the downtrodden franchise in 2018, where he followed up a hot Commissioner's Cup campaign by headlining Dyip locals with stellar averages of 20.1 points (45 percent shooting, 37 percent on threes), 6.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.3 steals per game in last year's Governors' Cup.
His momentum, unfortunately, was cut short when he suffered a PCL injury to start the 2019 PBA season, and he never got the chance to pick up where he left off after being shipped. Nonetheless, King is pretty happy about moving to NorthPort, where he'll get to relive the hype under what he believes is a more competitive environment.
"It was mutual. I think it was time for me to move on, and NorthPort had a spot and showed interest in me. That's all God's plan, I'd say," King said of the trade. "Personally I do like the environment here. That's the number one thing. Coach Pido's really relaxed and intense at the same time. I like that as a player."
King, who will turn 27 just six days after the start of the conference, will give NorthPort another young guard that could thrive in its fast-paced offense as he is able to dictate the tempo, score in bunches and play heavy minutes without a lot of drop-off efficiency-wise. "He just has to adapt to us. He has that quickness, he can pressure, he can run. We're a run and gun team and he's a good fit with us," Jarencio said.
"I believe I could be a defender, a distributor and if they need me to score, I can do that too. I've shown that I can do that. But it's going to come down to whatever coach Pido wants. I'm just here trying my best to win games," King added.
Aside from helping out on the scoring aspect of things, King could also be that additional ball-handler that will take some of the playmaking load off of Bolick and the other guards. King doesn't drop a lot of dimes just yet, but he's stable and doesn't turn the ball over much -- he only had 1.6 turnovers against 3.3 assists in those two impressive conferences with Columbian -- which bodes well for a NorthPort team that wants to take care of the rock more after posting the second-highest turnover average (18.1) in the Commissioner's Cup.
More importantly, he can also become another disruptive presence on the defensive end of the floor for NorthPort. Last conference, the Batang Pier averaged a league-high 8.7 steals per game and the second-most points scored off turnovers at 19.6; those numbers could rise with King, who tallied 1.3 steals per game with the Dyip.
"That would be one of the big things I can do. I can keep the turnovers low and pick the assists up. Another thing I'm going to highlight is I think we have good defenders on this team as well so I think that's going to be a big piece for us coming into the conference," said Dyip.
Whether or not he'll be unleashed immediately still depends on Jarencio, who could start King alongside Bolick or have the newly-acquired guard play with the second unit.
"I'm excited, I'm really excited to share the floor with [Bolick]. I don't know if you've been watching FIBA but he's a really good player. I love the confidence he brings to the game," he said of his new teammate.
"[But] that won't be my call," King said. "Of course I'd love to start, but of course that's up to coach Pido, 100 percent."
NorthPort also seems to have doubled-down on the formula that worked for them last conference by signing Mychal Ammons, who returns to the PBA after his last stint with TNT in 2016. Ammons isn't a ball-dominant import but he can run in transition well and be a complementary piece for a roster that's loaded with offensive options elsewhere.
"He's like Prince Ibeh. He will get rebounds, play help defense," noted Jarencio.
"We like to run. I would like to get up and down, I want to push the ball. We got some bigs who can run the floor so we're going to put them to use," Ammons said. "These guys played well last conference. I'm not coming in to change that. I'm just coming in to take the team to the next level and just try to win as many games as we can. "
Ammons has a positive outlook entering Governors' Cup after a productive first week with his new PBA team.
"Practice has been well. We're getting in playing shape, guys have embraced me. We're trying to jell and I think it's coming together well," he said. "I'm just more confident this year, man. I'm ready to come in, I'm ready to make an impact."
Making the transition easier for the two newcomers will be the "unfinished business" mentality that they share with NorthPort, which had its eyes on a lengthy playoff run before running into SMB's wall. Ammons, in particular, could relate to an early exit as he was given the boot by Meralco in the semifinals three years ago.
"I thought I came close with TNT, these guys came close last conference to winning a championship as well. Myself and the team, we both have unfinished business to finish," he said.
King's motivation, on the other hand, is a little bit more personal as he wants to hit resume on a rising career that began to flourish last season.
"My injury is good. I've actually been really good for a while. I've lost some weight. I feel really light on my feet. I'm ready for a comeback season," said King.
Any aspirations of a bounce-back might not come to fruition immediately while the team waits for Sean Anthony, who is two weeks away from coming back from a foot injury, and center Bradwyn Guinto, who is out due to a knee ailment. Fortunately, Bolick's set to return immediately after returning from national team duties in the FIBA World Cup to give NorthPort's preparations some added fuel.
"It's nothing," the coach answered when asked about concerns of Bolick being too exhausted from FIBA play. "Bata 'yang mga 'yan eh, iba sana kung matanda 'yun. It's nothing. He can just rest for two or three days and he's good to go."
"We're so proud of him, but of course if he comes back here he has to help out. He knows the ins and outs of the team even if he's not here. He knows what we're doing," he added.
His return, and the existing talent and depth present in this roster, inspires hope of a deep playoff campaign for the Batang Pier, whom Ammons thinks has all the tools to go all the way.
"I'm always thinking we're going to go win the championship. That's the goal. I feel like with this group we have, if we stay focused, stay prepared I think we have a really good shot at making it into the championship," he said.