ANTIPOLO -- Coach Leo Austria called San Miguel management's decision to suspend three key players in the middle of its Grand Slam bid "a strong reminder" that everyone has to fall in line and follow the rules.
The Beermen suspended Arwind Santos, Kelly Nabong and Ronald Tubid for the Nov. 17 scuffle hours before the team's crucial game against the TNT KaTropa. While the losses will certainly hurt their depth, Austria said the incident was not something that the team could sweep under the rug without consequences.
"[W]e have to accept the reality because we cannot tolerate the incident that happened to us. And although it's an internal matter, it's what the organization stands for," said Austria. "We had to do something that could give us some reminder, a strong reminder that nobody's above the policy of the company."
Austria added that he doesn't know whether the team will allow the trio back in the mix when the playoffs come, but he's hoping everyone learns the message.
"I don't know. I [can't] decide regarding that. It's an organization decision, a management decision," Austria said when asked of a possible timeline for the suspended players' return. "Maybe a minor setback, but moving forward I think it will help us a lot because it's a strong signal for everybody in the team that they cannot do something silly, OK? Everyone should think of the team before themselves."
Despite the suspensions, San Miguel didn't look like it was playing with an incomplete unit Wednesday against TNT, digging itself out of a 17-point hole to challenge the KaTropa down to the final minute and give itself a chance at snatching the twice-to-beat bonus.
Import John Holland played all 48 minutes and logged 25 points, 11 rebounds and 6 steals to lead six scorers in double figures, while Terrence Romeo topped all locals in scoring with 18 and 6 dimes in 28 minutes off the bench.
"You can see that the team morale is so high, and then everybody was so inspired because of what happened to us. We take it positively. That's a normal thing that might happen in any team, whether it's NBA or PBA. I think how we played tonight showed no sign that an incident happened," observed Austria.
"I saw everybody was so eager to win, eager to contribute a lot. I told them this is a test of character. And then, in these circumstances even if you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel, it's something that could develop the character of the team."
Meanwhile, commissioner Willie Marcial said he won't mete any additional sanctions after SMB management took care of things internally.
"What the San Miguel management decided to do was enough for me. That would be double jeopardy if I decided to punish them, too," he said.
Marcial, though, said he'll continue reaching out to the players individually following the suspensions.
San Miguel will be entering the quarterfinals with a twice-to-win disadvantage against Barangay Ginebra, who was the same team to knock out the Beermen from its Grand Slam hunt two years ago in the same conference.
Game 1 is on Sunday, Nov. 24 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.