For most players, an All-Star game is a venue to take a break from the competitiveness of the game and build a bond between the league’s best players.
But that isn’t the case for Batangas-Tanduay’s Jeff Viernes.
“Sabi ko nga, mental focus ko every time na naglalaro ako… All-Star man ‘yan o every game, tini-treat ko siya the same,” Viernes revealed.
“I’m a very competitive player. Ginagawa ko lang [sa] lahat ‘yung best ko.”
And Viernes’ fierce approach to the game definitely showed when his South All-Stars squad were staring at the jaws of defeat against the North All-Stars in the 2019-20 Chooks-to-Go/MPBL Lakan Cup All-Star game at the Mall of Asia Arena, Thursday.
Down by six points with 3:15 remaining in regulation, the pint-sized guard from Isabela pumped in 12 in the South’s last 15 points – including two crucial free throws – which sent the game to overtime.
Viernes then conspired with Gab Banal, opening the extra period with a 10-0 barrage to give the South a comfortable 122-112 advantage with 3:19 ticks left.
The quintet of Renato Ular, Michael Juico, Aris Dionisio, and Jeric Teng were still able to answer with a 10-0 blast for the North, knotting the scores at 122-all. But the product of St. Clare sank 4-of-4 from the charity stripe in the final 25 seconds of the game to seal the victory.
“Siyempre nandoon pa rin ‘yung we’re having fun kasi All-Star pa rin ‘yun. Pero siyempre may sari-sarili kaming pride pa rin. Kahit sabihin mong All-Star, gusto naming ibigay namin ang best namin at bigyan ng magandang show ‘yung fans,” shared Viernes, who also pocketed PHP 50,000 courtesy of Sen. Manny Pacquiao for his efforts.
“I think nagawa naman namin both. Nag-enjoy kami at nabigyan namin ‘yung fans ng sobrang gandang laban, very intense. Siguro wala na kaming hihilingin pa, nakuha namin ‘yung panalo. Very fortunate lang and we’re very thankful.”
When the dust settled, Viernes collected 28 points, six assists, and six rebounds. He also took home his second consecutive All-Star Game Most Valuable Player award.
And for the 29-year-old spitfire guard, the team’s desire to win led to their on-court chemistry, which resulted in the victory.
“’Yung back-to-back MVP, bonus na lang din,” said Viernes. “Nag-usap-usap kami sa dugout, and we all want to win. I think kaya din maganda ang chemistry namin kahit second time kami magkakasama, ‘yung una All-Star last year.
“Maganda. Happy kami.”
And South head coach Don Dulay could not agree more, having witnessed the camaraderie first hand.
“One thing I noticed, we had a lot more fun on the bench. Everybody on the bench, the whole second half, we’re cheering who’s on the court.”
Story by Jonash Dannug