With five players out for the defending champions Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, shocktrooper Aljon Mariano stepped up big time, tying his career-high to lift the Gin Kings to a gritty win over sibling rivals San Miguel Beermen in the 2018 PBA Governors’ Cup, Sunday night at the SMART-Araneta Coliseum.
Playing as starter for the injury-hit Gin Kings, Mariano seized the moment, racking up 20 big points on a perfect 7-of-7 field goal shooting to go along seven rebounds, two assists, two steals, and a block in 33 minutes of action.
Mariano said he is just making the most out of the golden opportunity while Ginebra await the return of five injured players in Japeth Aguilar (calf), Greg Slaughter (ankle), Sol Mercado (knee), Jervy Cruz (bone spur), and Raymond Aguilar.
For him, his offensive outburst was just a bonus, as his main assignment from head coach Tim Cone was to be an import defender.
“I’m making the most of it, yung opportunity na ibinibigay sa akin ni coach na paglaruin ako, na padepensahan sa akin ang import,” said the 16th overall pick in the 2015 Draft.
“Ibinibigay niya sa akin ang job na yun. Yun lang ibinabalik ko lang ang tiwala na ibinibigay niya sa akin.”
True enough, Mariano did his homework and showcased his potential as an effective two-way player after also putting the clamps down on San Miguel import Arizona Reid, who bled for just 13 points, eight rebounds, four steals, and two turnovers.
“Sa laro ko naman ang trabaho ko lang talaga pinapabantay sa akin yung import, try to contain or stop the import. Yung mga points na dumarating extra na lang yun,” added Mariano, who is averaging 9.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game this conference before his 20-point eruption.
With Mariano’s breakout performance, Ginebra are in line to flaunt an even deeper line-up when their wounded players come back, as the Gin Kings gun for three straight Governors’ Cup championship.
“We’re really undermanned. Kapag nakita nyo ang practice namin lalo na last week parang pito lang kaming nagi-ensayo or walo so ganyan kapag tiningnan mo ang team kulang-kulang talaga,” he said.
“Sinabi rin ni coach na nagiging deep ang lineup namin kasi yung mga hindi rin nabibigyan ng minutes last conference nabibigyan na ngayon. Ayun sina Caperal ganyan para nakukuha rin nila ang rhythm nila para pagbalik nina Greg and Japeth ready na talaga ang lahat.”
Joe Devance – who himself is also coming off a knee injury and just came back last game – commended Mariano for stepping up for the depleted Ginebra.
“That’s huge. It’s AJ’s time right now so, I’m proud of him. He balled out. He’s the hardest worker on the team and with the injuries, it’s like a blessing in disguise.”
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