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A group for the ages

Kerby Raymundo (with ball): Two-way center

On the 10th anniversary of their PBA Philippine Cup win, the Purefoods Tender Juicy Giants gathered for a reunion—not in the traditional way, but in one forced by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

It was a three-hour gathering, an electronic one.

And after seeing his former charges, Ryan Gregorio, who won three titles calling the shots for Purefoods, couldn’t help but dwell on the what if’s, like what if he had that 2009-2010 team playing now, with James Yap at the top of his offensive game, Marc Pingris one of the most unforgiving defenders in the league, and Kerby Raymundo one of the finest two-way centers out there?

“I think we’d still be able to compete,” Gregorio told the Inquirer after his reunion with the TJ Giants.

San Miguel has won the last five Philippine Cups with a team anchored on the talented June Mar Fajardo, but Gregorio feels that he had a “complete arsenal” with that team, which qualified to the playoffs as the No. 3 seed before sweeping the top-seeded Alaska Aces in the best-of-seven Finals.

“You take a look at the success of San Miguel Beer in the last five seasons with June Mar as an anchor—that’s the template of how good this era is in terms of skills,” Gregorio said. “But we had a complete arsenal.”

The last of the Beermen’s five titles came at the expense of the Purefoods of today, when San Miguel won a thrilling Game 7 last year.

Aside from Gregorio’s top three players, Purefoods also had Peter June Simon, who 10 years ago was probably the most efficient sixth man in the league, Don Allado, Rafi Reavis, Rommel Adducul, Roger Yap, Rico Maierhofer and Paul Artadi, among others.

And Gregorio feels that they can give any team of today a run for its money.

“From heft inside, playing defense, to length, speed, to who I’m gonna go to when the game is on the line, to toughness on the backcourt? I mean, we can—and we will win a lot of games,” he explained.

“Just look underneath: Don was there, Rafi [Reavis] was there, Jondan [Salvador] was there. Rommel was also still a defensive specialist,” he said.

That about sums up how Gregorio was going to play Fajardo, and the rest of the Giants would then take care of the rest of the star-studded Beermen.

Here’s how.

“Pingris can defend 1 through 5, and Rico is such a tremendous off-ball defender,” Gregorio said.

Offense? He feels the Giants wouldn’t have a problem with that.

“James, at his peak, was automatic. The man with a million moves,” he said of Yap, who won his second MVP that season. “PJ may have played better basketball under a different system … [but] under our scheme, he’d score a bundle of points [since] he doesn’t need a lot of minutes to contribute.”

And like San Miguel, whose defensive intensity is anchored on the peppery Chris Ross, Gregorio has an answer to that one, too.

“Paul—and I say this in a positive way—is just a major irritant,” Gregorio went on. “And Roger Yap? A tough cookie to crumble.”

“That was a Grand Slam-[worthy] lineup,” Alvin Patrimonio, the franchise’s poster boy during the ’90s and now the team’s manager, said of that squad, which bowed to San Miguel in the semifinals of the Fiesta Conference later that year, 4-2.

“That team would’ve been intact for two more years, or good for at least six conferences,” Gregorio told his former players.

“Whenever I look back and check out that [Purefoods] team, I think it would give oppositions—even the successful teams right now—a lot of fits.” INQ

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