They’re the same group from a conference ago. But with new uniforms (and a new color scheme), new fans, a new team name, and a new tournament to try and win, the Phoenix Petroleum Fuel Masters have formally ushered the start of a new era — one that’s visibly different from the previous squad.
“Because of what the management have assured us, that they will go all out in support of the team, maybe that is why the team is so pumped up and so inspired to play today’s ball game,” Phoenix head coach Koy Banal said after the Fuel Masters debuted with an impressive 118-106 win over the NLEX Road Warriors on Wednesday night.
And with such assurance from the management, it carried on the floor. The squad visibly played with newfound spirit and a new sense of direction — definitely a good start for a team that was once the subject of scrutiny for its management’s often questionable decisions.
Phoenix made it clear that they’re a different team now, and whether it’s a conscious effort to try and change the previous impression or it’s all subconscious for the team, what matters is that the campaign off to a wonderful start.
“We talked about making history, the first ever game of Phoenix this conference, and I am thankful the players have given it their all to be able to get this first W. I think we have done a good job with the game plan,” Banal said.
“Everybody is communicating. Everybody set aside their personal goals for the good of the team. That is what the coaches have been emphasizing.”
Phoenix out-rebounded the Road Warriors, 58-42; had more assists, 24-18; and shot a phenomenal 49 percent from three-point area (17-for-35).
RR Garcia topped the game with a career-high 33 points with 6-for-8 shooting overall. He scored 19 points in the third quarter alone. JC Intal, who has been on a resurgence himself, punctuated the game with a baseline slam.
“Excited (kami) kasi bagong team, bagong motivation sa amin yun. Good thing we won this won. Siguro hindi lang kami sanay na maraming sumusuporta sa amin. Hopefully, maging normal yung ganyan o mas marami pa para ganahan pa kami lalo,” Intal shared afterwards.
Atty. Raymond Zorrilla, one of Phoenix’s team owners, even shared the management already thought of putting up a fans’ day for the squad — whose first game was attended by a good number of Phoenix employees who even brought poppers.
“We really cannot declare a holiday in the office because it would disrupt operations, but we have some supporters already, we are in fact already planning a fans day. It’s really nice to get this first game off our chests and we can plan one game at a time,” Zorrilla said.
“We wanted all-out support for the team. The company is there backing them up. We just want their hearts, their passion, and performance. They responded in this game and hopefully for the rest of the Cup they respond positively. We have full faith in the (team) from the coaching staff all the way to the utilities.”
Things are now falling into place for the franchise. There is trust from the management, and the players sense that. There is an immediate goal, which is to make the quarter-finals and finish in the upper half. There is direction, which perhaps for so long had been missing.
Bannering a veteran core and a few young pieces capable of making impact, it is clear the new-look Phoenix side is ready to compete and build a new identity.