By Jerome Lagunzad
Games July 19
4:15 p.m. – Kia vs Phoenix
7 p.m. – Alaska vs NLEX
After reaching the quarterfinal round in the last three conferences, Phoenix coach Ariel Vanguardia is setting the bar a notch higher for the Fuel Masters in the 2017 PBA Governors Cup.
“Ambitious at it may sound, but I think we have the tools to go the next level,” he admitted yesterday, sounding confident of his team’s chances in the season-ending conference which they will open against the Kia Picanto next week.
The 44-year-old Vanguardia has one big reason to be in such high spirits since the Fuel Masters will have bull-strong reinforcement Eugene Phelps in the fold for the third time since helping them advance to their breakthrough playoff appearance in the same conference last year.
The 6-foot-5 Phelps also suited up for Phoenix in this year’s Commissioner’s Cup, but he only played a single match as he honored his earlier commitment to Brujos de Guayama, a pro cub competing in Puerto Rico’s top tier league.
The former Long Beach State standout, however, left an indelible mark in his previous showing for the Fuel Masters, pumping in 53 points and hauling down 21 rebounds while leading them to a 118-116 double overtime victory over the Blackwater Elite led by former NBA veteran Greg Smith.
Vanguardia is confident the 27-year-old Phelps can pick up from where he left off. “Familiar na siya sa sistema pati na rin ‘yung mga locals sa kanya kaya maganda na agad ang chemistry ng team,” he said.
Known for his vast offensive repertoire, Phelps is “still improving and maturing more as an all-around player,” admitted Vanguardia.
“Maganda ‘yung nakikita ko na nag-i-improve rin ‘yung kanyang passing skills. Kapag dino-double, triple-team siya, marunong na siya pumasa ngayon. Mas may pasensya na siya at mas nag-mature rin talaga ‘yung game niya,” he stressed.
As one of five ‘balik’-imports this conference, Phelps knows he carries a big target on his back. But he’s relishing the expected tough challenge.
“I didn’t come here to be an eight-placer again. I wanna be in the Top 4, go to the semis and hopefully win the championship,” he said in a separate interview inside the team’s official dugout at The UpperDeck Sports Center in Pasig City.