[PHOTO AT LEFT - Ginebra coach Jong Uichico, PBA commissioner Sonny Barrios and SMB coach Siot Tanquingcen show their readiness for battle during the PBA Finals press conference. Also on hand are players of both teams. Jun Mendoza MANILA, Philippines]

MANILA, JULY 1, 2009 (STAR) By Nelson Beltran - Barangay Ginebra and San Miguel Beer start their Motolite PBA Fiesta Conference best-of-seven championship showdown tonight at the Araneta Coliseum – a fitting finale featuring the reigning titleholder and the worthiest challenger to come out of the pack.

Game One is set at 7:30 p.m. with the Kings trying to become the first team in seven years to successfully defend a PBA title and the Beermen out to snap a four-year title drought, including a final loss to the crowd favorites two years ago.

They may be sister teams under the giant SMC umbrella but the least these two squads could do is to figure in a “friendly battle.”

“Yes, we’re sister teams but we’re all pros here. I won’t give my (won-game) bonus to them. I can still remember our last championship. We’re focused to get back at them,” said SMB skipper Olsen Racela.

“When the ball goes up, you throw our being sister teams out of the window. No more sister teams, no more friends, it’s now all work and about winning the championship,” said Ginebra top gun Jayjay Helterbrand.

San Miguel is the prohibitive pick but Ginebra coach Jong Uichico is confident of his wards’ chances to repeat as Fiesta Conference champions. Ginebra beat Air21 (now Burger King) for the crown last year.

“(San Miguel is) too big, (has) too much size, too much shooting and too much of everything. But too much of everything could be bad,” said Uichico.

San Miguel coach Siot Tanquingcen admits they are a talent-laden team but doesn’t agree that they have much advantage over Ginebra.

“Their (the Kings’) strength is quickness. People may think they lack the size but their quickness can easily make up for whatever disadvantage they have. I don’t see any glaring Ginebra weakness,” said Tanquingcen.

Both coaches agree that it would be a duel of contrasting styles with the Kings likely to try take control with their fast-paced game and the Beermen tipped to compete with a deliberate half-court game.

The series-opener, however, could be considered just a prelude to what could turn out to be a classic match-up with both teams still on the drawing board following their 4-2 victories over their respective semifinal opponents just last Sunday.

San Miguel walloped Ginebra, 95-80, in their lone match in the classification round but the Kings were still without import David Noel and Cyrus Baguio then.

“We’re stronger now than the first time we met. We also play different now than before,” said Uichico.

“That’s a long time ago. They had a dominant import (Rod Nealy) then – dominant in the sense that the ball was always with him. Now Ginebra has a dominant import who makes his teammates better,” said Tanquingcen.

San Miguel reinforcement Gabe Freeman, a top candidate for the Best Import award, said he’s looking forward to his match-up with Noel.

Is Jong jinxed by Siot? SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin Henson Updated July 01, 2009 12:00 AM

Joseph Uichico and Siot Tanquingcen go back a long way in their PBA coaching careers. For years, they sat together on the San Miguel Beer bench. Then, they were reunited at Barangay Ginebra. Throughout their partnership, it was always Uichico at the helm as head coach and Tanquingcen his chief assistant.

Perhaps, that’s why in their head-to-head battles so far, Tanquingcen has the edge. As Uichico’s long-time caddy, Tanquingcen learned the ropes and absorbed everything he could from the former La Salle guard. It wasn’t the same the other way around because Uichico never worked under Tanquingcen.

It’s no wonder that in three playoff series where they’ve faced off, Tanquingcen has won them all.

The first of their confrontations was in the 2004-05 Philippine Cup semifinals where Tanquingcen, coaching Ginebra, took out Uichico, coaching San Miguel, 3-2, in a best-of-five affair.

The second was in the 2007 Fiesta Conference quarterfinals where Tanquingcen, this time coaching San Miguel, beat Uichico, coaching Ginebra, 2-1, in a best-of-three series.

The third was in the last Philippine Cup quarterfinals where Tanquingcen, coaching San Miguel, repulsed Uichico, coaching Ginebra, 2-1, in a best-of-three tie. In all, they’ve squared off in 29 games with Tanquingcen enjoying a slight edge, 16-13.

Of course, the situation is different in the Finals where the pressure is incredibly nerve-wracking. This is where Uichico has a marked advantage, having won eight titles so far, compared to two for Tanquingcen. They’ve never faced off in the Finals before – this conference marks their first-ever encounter.

* * *

Uichico, 46, has captured championships for both San Miguel (six) and Ginebra (two). He’ll turn 47 on July 15 which could be the day when Game 7, if necessary, falls. Ever since PBA commissioner Sonny Barrios assumed his position or since the 2007 Fiesta Conference Finals, every Last Dance has gone to a Game 7 – a lucky streak.

Tanquingcen, 36, was only seven years old when the San Miguel franchise, flying the Royal Tru-Orange colors, won the first of its 17 titles in 1979. San Miguel has tied the Boston Celtics with 17 championships and will go one up on the NBA team with a victory over Ginebra in this season’s Fiesta Conference Finals which reels off tonight. By the way, San Miguel is playing in its 29th Finals, one shy of the record 30 compiled by the Los Angeles Lakers who just won their 15th NBA crown.

Uichico has lost in three Finals, going 8-of-11, while Tanquingcen, never, going 2-of-2.

For the record, Tanquingcen was Uichico’s assistant at San Miguel starting in 1999 up to 2004 when he replaced Allan Caidic as Ginebra coach five games into the Fiesta Conference. When Uichico was drafted to coach the national team in 2002, Tanquingen was elevated to interim head coach for San Miguel in the Governors and Commissioner’s Cups. The Beermen went to the semifinals in both conferences but never made it to the Finals.

At Ginebra, Tanquingcen won two titles in 2004-05. When Uichico moved to Ginebra in the 2006-07 Philippine Cup (with Chot Reyes taking over the San Miguel reins), Tanquingcen slid down to assistant coach. Tanquingcen later returned to San Miguel three games into the 2007 Fiesta Conference and became head coach.

San Miguel hasn’t won a PBA title since the 2004-05 Fiesta Conference under Uichico. And Tanquingcen has never won a title with San Miguel as a head coach. If San Miguel beats Ginebra for the Fiesta Conference crown this year, Tanquingcen will go full circle in his coaching career that started with the Beermen.

* * *

The PBA expects banner crowds in the Finals. It’s the fourth Finals meeting between the teams and San Miguel leads the race, 2-1. Their first battle was in the 1989 Reinforced Conference where the Beermen, coached by Norman Black, beat Ginebra, known as Anejo Rhum, 4-1. Next came San Miguel’s 4-2 triumph over Ginebra for the 2001 All-Filipino Cup crown. Then, in the 2006-07 Philippine Cup, the Kings took sweet revenge on San Miguel, 4-2, coming back from a 0-2 deficit.

Game 6 of the 2006-07 Philippine Cup Finals brought in a crowd of 17,975 paying customers. If San Miguel extended it to a Game 7, over 18,000 fans would’ve jammed the Big Dome to watch for sure.

When San Miguel won its last title in 2004-05, the players included Dondon Hontiveros, Olsen Racela and Danny Ildefonso – who are still with the Beermen today. Ironically, San Miguel’s coach was Uichico.

When Ginebra won two titles in 2004-05, the players included JayJay Helterbrand, Eric Menk and Sunday Salvacion – who are still with the Kings today. Ironically, Ginebra’s coach was Tanquingcen. Now, the coaching roles are reversed.

Uichico has won two titles for Ginebra with Helterbrand, Menk, Salvacion, Rafi Reavis, Ronald Tubid and Billy Mamaril. Those six veterans are back with Uichico in his bid for a third crown for the Kings.

Tanquingcen, one of only two players not picked in the 1996 draft, is gunning for his third overall title and first with San Miguel. Although he has been overshadowed by Uichico in their coaching rivalry, Tanquingcen can proudly proclaim he managed to play in 39 games for Sunkist and San Miguel in four PBA seasons despite the snub in the draft. Uichico saw action for guest team Northern Cement in 47 games in 1984 but never suited up for a pro club.

Both Ron Jacobs protégés will definitely give the fans a treat in what promises to be an unforgettable Finals.

(Note: Thanks to PBA chief statistician Fidel Mangonon for providing vital data.)

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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