It has been a trying PBA tour for Marqus Blakely, whose stint with what has been his third team in the league didn't go as planned.
Friday's last-second loss by Blackwater to the Phoenix Fuel Masters marked a sorry exit for the Elite, which was unable to follow up a sterling mid-season tournament with a convincing showing in the Governors' Cup after going 2-9 in a season-ending conference marred by late-game meltdowns. To add insult to injury, Matthew Wright's overtime game-winner meant that the team would end the season with a six-game losing slump.
For Blakely, a proven winner in the league with two titles and one Best Import award, it's certainly a different experience individually -- but one that Blackwater could use to grow as a unit in the future.
"Well, it's definitely a situation where I haven't been in. But at the same time, I think it's growing pains," he noted. "Winners will never know how to win without losing. I think that's something that we can take away from this conference.
"There's been a lot of close games that we've mentally collapsed and haven't played 48 minutes. Here, it was the last minute of the game where we fought back and fought hard and ended up short-handed in coming away with the win. I think that's one thing as a team we have to understand that we gotta learn. It's the mental health, the mental capability to close out games."
Blakely added that he wishes the Elite will be able to figure it out when they try to piece together a fresh start to the 2020 season next year.
"Talent-wise, obviously, we're fine with that. It's just the understanding of time and the score, when to call certain plays or when to slow the ball down, when to take shots. Those are all growing pains of a young player, a young team. I think that's one main thing that we can take away from this conference. Hopefully in All-Filipino, they jell together and become a better Blackwater," he said.
Meanwhile for Blakely, he'll look to keep things going in Japan, where he has played for the Shiga Lakestars and the Rising Zephyr Fukuoka.
"There's a couple of options, hopefully they're still on the table but I'll wait for this Governors' Cup to end and see what happens after that," he shared.
But the 31-year-old said he's very open to returning to the PBA and even bared how he and some of the other current imports expressed willingness to continue playing here.
"I hope not, I really hope not," said Blakely when asked whether this is his last run in the league. "But if it is, it's been nothing but love to come out here and play. Hopefully a team will have me back next Governors' Cup. That's just how it goes."
"I mean, talking to other imports... this is the place where basketball is that big. You play in front of crowds and fans that are eager to watch the game. When it comes to playing all over Asia -- Japan, Korea -- I love the Philippines. At any time, I will come back here," he added.
After an individually prolific conference where he averaged 18.0 points, 13.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 3.5 steals and 2.9 blocks while showing off some veteran and mental chops, Blakely is convinced he still has what it takes to help steer a team towards success.
"You never pick the time to quit. The game will tell you when it's time to quit. I think I still have a few more years in me. At least I could use my mental and veteran capabilities on certain teams and certain younger players, just to understand that basketball is mostly a mental game," Blakely said.
"We've had a lot of talent but if you don't use it on the floor in the right way, it's wasted. Wasted effort. I think just getting younger people that have just gotten to the PBA or talking to veterans or getting involved underneath one wing is what I'm good at."
Asked which team he'd like to play for again, Blakely provided a pretty obvious hint.
"Making me choose favorites, huh? I'm not gonna choose a specific team *coughs* Magnolia *coughs* but, you know, whatever happens, happens and hopefully I can come back here in the PBA and play," he laughed.