BLACKWATER coach Aris Dimaunahan is usually not one to make comparisons, but he can't help it in the case of Alex Stepheson and Aaron Fuller.
There's a very good reason.
In the coming PBA Governors Cup, Dimaunahan wants Fuller to give him the same performance Stepheson did in the last Commissioner's Cup, mainly by being a huge inside presence.
"Iyun ang talagang unang order of the day ko, rebounding. Di rin naman kami makakatakbo kung di namin kuha rebound," explained Dimaunahan.
"Kaya kami naging successful kay Alex nu'ng unang anim na laro, si Alex ang league-leader sa rebounding (22 a game)," Dimaunahan pointed out.
"Tuloy, nakakapunta kami sa opensa malimit at saka nanunupalpal din kaya medyo meron ding intimidating presence inside."
The hulking Stepheson did ably man the middle for Blackwater in the last mid-season conference, averaging a league0high 22 rebounds per game on top of 22.36 points, 2.83 assists and 2.1 blocks in the six games he played in. where the Elite raced to a franchise-best 5-1 start.
An unspecified injury, however, forced him to leave for treatment in the US and Blackwater to find a replacement.
First to come in was Jameel McKay, who proved to be out of game-shape, followed by Staphon Blair, who powered the team to a 2-1 record before being replaced due to knee injury.
Finally, Greg Smith came in as the Elite wound up the eliminations with a best-ever 7-4 record and third place, but they eventually lost to Rain or Shine in their best-of-three quarterfinals duel.
Dimaunahan now wants his team to once again exceed expectations - with Fuller's help.
"Hopefully, si Fuller, ganoon din ang maibibigay sa amin para maka-alagwa kami sa opensa namin. Hard worker din. Di pa maarte," said Dimaunahan.
Indeed, Fuller is a known more as a rebounding demon, averaging over 17 a game in his previous stints here with NLEX in the 2017 and 2018 editions of the same season-ending tourney. Those boards come on top of over 27 points, more than 4.0 assists and 1.6 blocks a night.
Apart from Fuller, Blackwater also has a newcomer in Carl Bryan Cruz, acquired last week in a trade with Alaska for Abu Tratter.
That gives Dimaunahan not only a forward who can bang with the best of them inside but also score from the perimeter.
Still, Dimaunahan does not want his charges to get ahead of themselves.
"Basta prepare ulit, gaya ng pag-prepare namin nu'ng last conference, then tingnan kung saan kami makakarating," said Dimaunahan.
"Ganu'n lang naman kami, di masyadong tumitingin sa malayo. Kung ano lang nasa harapan namin doon lang kami naka-focus."
Still, Dimaunahan can't help but raise his sights a bit in the Governors Cup that kicks off Sept. 20. "Sana mas maganda ngayong conference na ito. Nakita naman nilang pag sama-sama kami sa laro, mananalo kami," he said.
"Nakakuha na ng buwelo, kumbaga, kailangan na lang ng follow-up," added Dimaunahan. "Sana mas mataas pa sa third. Pero siyempre, kailangang trabahuhin."
First, Dimaunahan would have a first-hand taste of how effective Stepheson and Fuller could be when the two reinforce the Elite in the East Asia Super League's Terrific 12 invitationals set Sept. 17-22 in Macau. (NC)