SLR Will Rely on AJ Again

On: 13 February 2010

Anthony Johnson

With their bid for another All-Filipino title abruptly cut short by an embarrassing loss to the Rain or Shine Elasto Painter, the Realtors will be looking for the uptempo and high-flying style of play that Anthony Johnson will be bringing on their campaign next Conference. The coaching staff will not have any excuse this time because everyone in the team is healthy. If some appear not worthy enough to play in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), then the management only has itself to blame for that. And with that comes pressure.

The Realtors expected big things from AJ ever since they tapped him to play for the Realtors in the 2008-2009 Fiesta Cup. They had watched him lead the team to the quarterfinals and then average 29.1 points and 17.3 rebounds before Burger King stopped their run.

The Realtors had also expected Kelly Williams would be able to help lead them that time, but he got sidelined by a rare blood disorder. However, even without their former MVP, management thought that Dennis Espino could adequately team-up with AJ and power them to the Finals.

But for all the defenders who have tried to impede AJ's explosive game play, the one he never seemed to be able to get past is motivate his teammates to perform beyond expectation. Espino, Marlou Aquino, Ryan Reyes and Joseph Yeo did not lift their game any higher with Williams off the court. The local players built a reputation of relying on their import first before looking for other possible plays. The only reason that SLR was able to reach the quarterfinals without Williams is because AJ was playing a freewheeling style and was often given the freedom to run what he wanted, which other teams find hard to match.

With injuries limiting Williams to just nine (9) games, the Realtors managed to win only seven (7) out of 14 games. But for all of the team's issues – and there were many – the most common diagnosis for the Realtors centered on the poor leadership of both AJ and Espino.

To the credit of both, AJ and Espino did their best to try to get on the same page by spending some time with the other players off the court. Hopefully, with Espino gone and Williams emerging as a more inspirational leader, the team can settle into a fast-paced and mind-boggling rhythm.

Coach Boyet Fernandez's approach was more structured and more precision in the half court and exploiting mismatches on Williams, Aquino and before Espino. But for AJ, Williams, Yeo and Reyes, it was different. They are used to pushing the ball, making the game fun, making the game kind of creative. Even Josh Urbiztondo, acquired from free-agency, knows that their strength as a team relies on their running game.

The coaching staff should not expect AJ to lead this team anymore. They should give this mantle to Williams and Reyes. They should give these two players a simplified playbook, based on a motion-based offense to accentuate AJ's preferred up-tempo style.

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