When the 2017 PBA Governors’ Cup Finals opens on Friday, all eyes will be on the staggering talent on display going head to head. The Meralco Bolts have a strong 1-2 punch in the backcourt, led by second-year guards Baser Amer and Chris Newsome. Off the bench is rookie Mike Tolomia, eager to prove his worth after being traded midseason to the Bolts.
On the side of the crowd darlings Barangay Ginebra is the electric Scottie Thompson, the 6-foot rebounding demon that has stolen the hearts of their diehard fans with his penchant for getting stops and extra possessions for his team during when desperately needed. Kevin Ferrer, their rookie from UST made waves when he pushed TNT import Glen Rice JR to the brink of insanity, eventually pushing him over the edge.
We will all get a glimpse of the future of the PBA, and these superstars of tomorrow. But at the end of the day, the hopes of Barangay Ginebra will rely not on their youngsters, but on their leader. And his name is LA Tenorio.
When the smoke cleared after the thrilling 2016 Governors’ Cup Finals, LA Tenorio was crowed Finals MVP. He obtained his career-high in scoring, knocking down 36 points in the Game 1 loss to the Bolts, and was brilliant in leading Barangay Ginebra back to the promised land after almost a decade of agony and disappointment.
With averages of 17.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists in the six game series, Tenorio staked his claim as one of the steadiest and most dependable guards we have in the league.
But basketball isn’t a league where you can bask in the glow of your own glory for long. Only a few weeks later, Ginebra was back in action. And a new crop of talented guards went at Tenorio with each passing game. Meralco is no different. As recently as the elims of this conference, Tenorio got a taste of Meralco’s reloaded backcourt, as they defeated Ginebra 93-78. It was a reminder that though they may be the defending champs, everyone will always be going for the kings.
“Good thing about Meralco, why they’re playing so well, is that Chris Newsome and Baser Amer is really playing well for them,” Tenorio shared during the Finals Press Conference at Eastwood City. “They’re really playing like matagal na sila sa liga- ganyan sila e. And credit to their staff, especially si Coach Norman [Black]. Kilala ko kasi si Coach Norman, he will really develop point guards or guards para mag-excel.
If you’re a guard, there’s no day off against the Bolts. There will always be an elite level guard you have to defend whether it’s the energy of a young buck like Tolomia, or having to chase after shooter Garvo Lanete. Tenorio recognizes this, and like the veteran that he is refuses to get overwhelmed by the challenge.
“The good thing about it is hindi ko sila ibabantay sabay-sabay,” Tenorio said. “Isa-isa yan. Kung sino man ang makakaharap ko, it’s either Baser Amer or Newsome or Tolomia or Garvo, there’s a certain game plan for them. So I just have to be smart, ready and focused. Kasi iba-iba yan e.”
Tenorio will have to be wise about how he exerts energy against those guys. But the reality of the situation is that they will have to defend LA as well. They’ll have to slow down one of the wiliest and craftiest point guards we’ve ever seen in the PBA. And Tenorio knows this. He’s been on this stage on many occasions, and knows that while he may not have the physical advantage, there’s more to basketball than just how high you can jump or how well you can shoot.
“Feeling ko, I’m not as talented as Chris, Garvo or Baser,” Tenorio stated. “But I think my advantage is my experience and thinking through the game, kung anong nangyayari sa game. I might not be as athletic as Chris or a shooter like Garvo, or a very skilled player like Baser, but I think through the game.”
That was on full display in Ginebra’s series-clinching win against TNT, as Tenorio lit up the KaTropa with 25 points, on 6/12 shooting from the outside, to go along with 4 rebounds and 7 assists. He held his own against the talented Jayson Castro, and was like a maestro in organizing exactly where his teammates needed to be, and what mode of attack would work in that specific juncture.
There will be times that Tenorio will not be looking to score. He’s way past that already. “I don’t expect that I score 20, 30,40 points per game,” LA said. “My goal lang is to help my teammates be in the right position to succeed and to be a leader. Hindi na ako iisipin ni coach Tim [Cone]. Iisipin nalang ni coach Tim yung ibang players.”
Tenorio has seen it all in his 11 years in the PBA. And when the Finals unfolds once again on Friday, he will look to use every single lesson learned, every experience gained, and every smart decision made against the Meralco Bolts. It is a leadership borne from past failures and thrilling victories. The game has slowed down for Tenorio, and his unique blend of vision and veteran savvy will be what gives him an advantage over his talented opponents.
“Sa sobrang dami ko nang na-experience na different players at sa ibang bansa rin, I think beyond kung ano ang pinapagawa sa akin,” Tenorio said. “Split-second decision yan during the game. I think isa rin yan sa na develop ko all throughout my career sa PBA – looking beyond kung anong nangyayari ngayon. Na-anticipate ko na anong mangyayari sa possession after this or two possessions after this.”
“I think I’m old enough to see that,” Tenorio said with conviction. “I just have to be smart and ready for that.”