MANILA, MAY 21, 2008
(STAR) By Joaquin Henson - Coca-Cola import George (Gee) Gervin Jr. was told the other day by team officials he will be replaced by Donald Copeland in the PBA Fiesta Conference, squelching plans of his legendary father, known as the Iceman, visiting Manila to watch him play.

Gervin Sr. and wife Joyce planned to come to town if the Tigers make it deep in the PBA playoffs. But with their son out of the lineup, the trip is now academic.

Gervin said team manager J. B. Baylon and assistant coach Boyvits Victoria broke the news that caught him by surprise during a coffee shop meeting.

“I’m done,” said Gervin who averaged 18 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 28 minutes in seven games. “They really didn’t give me a reason why I was being replaced except that the team’s original choice suddenly became available. When my teammates found out, some of the guys called me on the phone. They were shocked and surprised.”

Gervin said he got calls from Asi Taulava, Alex Cabagnot, Mark Telan, import partner Jason Dixon and injured Calvin Cage whom he replaced due to injury.

“I’m still staying ’til the weekend,” he said. “Some of my teammates want to take me around town before I leave.”

But coach Binky Favis said yesterday Gervin’s exit isn’t set in stone.

“We haven’t informed the PBA of any change,” said Favis. “We’ve got a couple of days to decide since our next game against Red Bull is still on Friday. There’s a small probability, like a three to five percent chance, we’ll ask Gee to stay if Copeland doesn’t work out.”

Favis said Copeland was the Tigers’ first choice but when he couldn’t commit for the season opener, he brought in Bobby Burries instead. Burries, however, was measured over the 6-1 limit for Coca-Cola’s second import and went home. His replacement, Cage, was injured after a game.

“This is the worst part of being a coach, when you cut a player whom you know is good and whom you’ve gotten to like,” said Favis. “We’re just looking for some permanence. We’ve seen videos of Copeland and we’re impressed. Whatever we decide in the end, we hope it’s for good.”

Favis said despite the team’s ups and downs, he’s inspired by his players’ desire to win.

“Guys are proving themselves out on the court, showing they belong in this league,” he said. “That keeps you going. We’ve had so many lineup changes since the offseason and we’re still trying to jell as a team.”

Copeland, 25, arrived late Saturday night. The 5-10, 173-pound guard is half-Puerto Rican, half-American. As an all-state senior at St. Anthony High in New Jersey in 2001-02, he averaged 14.3 points. He played four years at Seton Hall University, norming 2.2 points as a freshman, 1.3 as a sophomore, 6.9 as a junior and finally, 16.1 as a senior. Copeland saw action on two Seton Hall teams that qualified for the NCAA Tournament. In his senior season, he led the Pirates varsity in scoring, assists, steals, three-point percentage and free throw percentage.

Known as a tough on-the-ball defender, Copeland was described by Seton Hall coach Louis Orr as a winner who improved on his decision-making and leadership every year. Copeland scored only 91 points in his first two seasons and had only 19 starts before his senior year when he blossomed as a star.

Although he’s shorter than Gervin, Copeland is reportedly beefier. Gervin leads the league in free throw percentage (.952) and is second in steals (1.5). Last May 9, he hit 35 points, including six triples, in 33 minutes as Coca-Cola brought down Magnolia, 106-92, in the Tigers’ best showing so far.

News of Gervin’s departure came in the wake of the Tigers’ two-game losing skid. The team has lost three of its last four.

Victoria said Gervin took the news like a professional.

“We met with Gee and told him our original choice has become available,” said Victoria. “It was difficult to break the news because he’s a really nice guy and he’s very close with the locals.”

Gervin’s agent Jerry Barisano, who left Manila for Sinagpore last Sunday, said he couldn’t believe the news.

“Things haven’t gone right for the team lately but it’s not Gee’s fault,” he said. “My suggestion is to try out Copeland in practice. If he’s better than Gee, then send Gee home. If not, I’ll make sure Gee stays and plays even harder, with something to prove. I know Gee and he’ll deliver.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved