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PBA restart: Players, coaches enjoying journey together in unique situation

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CLARK, Pampanga - After being apart from each other for months, PBA teams all enjoyed the initial reunions heading into the PBA Bubble in Clark, Pampanga. However, right after spending two to three days in room confinement awaiting their COVID-19 test results, the 12 teams had to face a challenge head on.

They had to figure out how to maximize the few days of practice to prepare for the shortened schedule of the 2020 Philippine Cup, which opens Sunday (4:00 p.m. on TV5, One Sports and PBA Rush).

The statements from the coaches were similar. Their teams were so ready back in March. They went through the whole process of off-season preparations with training camps and practice games but now they had to rush the process.

As a result, some teams practice three times a day. Aside from their allotted 2.5 hours in the AUF Arena, they still have daily gym sessions of 45 minutes with some teams also opting to get an extra shoot-around session.

The situation has been challenging but the coaches and players are relishing every moment as they have longed for this opportunity to work again.

"Surprisingly, we looked good," said Rain or Shine head coach Caloy Garcia. "At the start everyone was over-eager because we haven't practiced in a long time as a team. The group practices before the bubble really helped and our PTs and trainers did a good job."

"We've been moving pretty well. The guys who came in the original group are in decent shape already. The guys who got here recently are getting into shape. The guy who's probably behind right now is Raymond (Almazan) because he's coming off an injury," admitted Meralco head coach Norman Black who is hoping finally turn their fate around in this Philippine Cup.

"It felt really good to be together as a team. We missed each other. I missed coaching. These guys missed playing. We've been bonding well here because we're together 24 hours."

All of the coaches agree that the race is wide open in the 2020 Philippine Cup. The two biggest players in the league in June Mar Fajardo and Greg Slaughter will not be seeing action but, more than that, it's the reality that everyone is experiencing this for the first time and it's tough to figure out how everyone will be affected.

"The field is balanced. We all started at the same time," said Magnolia head coach Chito Victolero. "We just want to take it one game at a time, one practice at a time. We just want to make it to the playoffs. That's our only goal so far. We're thinking of so many things now like our families and the situation outside the bubble, so we don't want put additional pressure on our players' minds."

"There are no 'better teams' in the bubble," agreed NorthPort head coach Pido Jarencio. "Everyone started at the same time and started from scratch. It's not only a physical battle. It's more mental. It will be survival of the fittest."

Coach Yeng Guiao of the NLEX Road Warriors admitted that they won't get to play their 100% at the start of the competitions.

"Our first practice was sloppy, which I think is true for all the other teams. The lockdown took a toll on our conditioning and we are trying to get everything back in a 9- to 10 days is tough but after we get another week or so, we should be okay," he said.

Guiao, who was a huge proponent of holding the Philippine Cup in a bubble set-up, can focus all of his attention on his team now as he's impressed with the way the PBA worked with the IATF in setting up the bubble.

"I'm very happy that we were able to do the bubble in Clark," he said. "I'm happy with the way things are going because the protocols are in place and are being followed. If we could be consistent, then we can accomplish our objective of having a good tournament, still compete and still entertain our countrymen."