It was bad news for the Che’lu-San Sebastian Revellers, as they learned that the veteran Jeff Viernes will no longer be part of the team for the 2018 D-League Aspirants’ Cup Finals, as he has been called up by PBA club team GlobalPort Batang Pier.
With the seasoned guard’s departure, the odds turned against them them, and they were expected to have a hard time against the heavily-favored Zark’s-Lyceum Jawbreakers, who carry a four-game winning run in the playoffs.
But in Game One, the underdogs defied the odds.
Thanks to a well-deployed attack by coach Stevenson Tiu’s boys, the Revellers shocked the Jawbreakers, 107-103, to douse cold water into their fiery streak and to post an early 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
“Yung mindset namin ngayon, lahat kami kailangan mag-step up kasi wala yung point guard namin ngayon na si Jeff Viernes,” said wingman Samboy De Leon, who served as Che’lu’s top scorer with 18 points on four triples.
“Championship na, kailangan namin mag-focus, Kung sino ang piyesa ni coach, step up lang,” added the former Star (now known as Magnolia) Hotshots reserve, who also collected five rebounds and three assists.
De Leon didn’t hide the fact that losing a Jeff Viernes is tough — the former Hi-Tec City Bangkok import was actually the one who towed them into the Finals thanks to his game-winner in Game Two of their semifinals match-up versus Akari-Adamson.
“Siyempre kasi parang leader yun ng team eh. Pagpasok niya naging maganda ang takbo namin,” said the former CEU Scorpion.
But then, the Revellers have to move on. And for De Leon, having lots of veterans in the team helps speed up the process, as they know what to do and how to help their younger teammates to not be carried away by the loss of a leader.
“Yun ang lamang ng team namin. Kalahati ng team namin veterans, so yung experience nandoon,” said De Leon, who is in the mix for the conference’s Most Valuable Player race along with CJ Perez and teammate Allyn Bulanadi.
“Kaya sabi lang namin sa teammates namin, kailangan composed kami. ‘Wag kami mawawala sa focus.”