Entering the league midway through the year, Phoenix is now gearing for its first full season as coach Ariel Vanguardia prepares his wards for the 2017 Philippine Cup.
And even before the conference begins, he has slowly instituted changes in his lineup, recruiting a familiar face to help him rekindle his success in other leagues.
Fil-Canadian Matthew Wright brings a sense of familiarity to Vanguardia’s system, as he hopes to replicate his success in the ABL to the PBA.
The Fuel Masters will still bank on the veteran presence of JC Intal, Cyrus Baguio, and Willy Wilson, but the spotlight will now be on Wright, fellow rookies Gelo Alolino and Pao Javelona, and sophomore Simon Enciso as Phoenix seeks to further run the opponent to the ground with its youth.
“We need to defend some more. By being more young, more aggressive, we can achieve it,” said Vanguardia, even hinting of parading small-ball lineups with Intal playing the four.
“Now that we’re younger, I think we can press some more and deny our opponent’s passing lanes.”
Though running in a mercurial pace and being one of the league’s pacemakers in offense, the Fuel Masters’ failure to bring that intensity on the defensive end proved to be their downfall as they missed out on the semifinals in their first two conferences.
Vanguardia is optimistic that it won’t be the case anymore for Phoenix, as the young franchise eyes to make a splash this season-opening conference.
“We believe we can make it to the playoffs again,” he said.