When James Yap first suited up for the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters during the 2016-2017 PBA Philippine Cup, he was met by high expectations early on.
How will he fit with his new team? How will the Elasto Painters look now that they don’t have Paul Lee? Was the trade going to be successful? Will we see the James Yap of old?
For 10 games last conference, Yap averaged 11.2 PPG, 39.4 FG%, and 1.9 3PM. His numbers weren’t that farfetched from his career 12.0 PPG, but his minutes of 20.2 a night was the lowest in his career. He battled with knee problems all-conference long.
It looked as if the old James Yap was only but a memory.
But in his debut in 2017 PBA Commissioner’s Cup against the NLEX Road Warriors, the 35-year old gave a performance that would serve as a strong reminder that he’s still one of the best. Yap ended up with 26 points, including 5-for-11 from downtown, and hit a nasty step back three-pointer that knocked the socks out of Bradwyn Guinto.
Indeed, it was vintage James Yap. His performance on Friday night didn’t feel like it was just a lightning in a bottle. It didn’t seem like a fluke. And, it didn’t look like it was just going to be a one-game thing.
Yap’s throwback game was a product of getting back into shape and realigning himself with his new team.
“Nagpa-kundisyon lang and extra work,” Yap said about his performance.
“Kasi di ba last conference, na-astroscopic yung tuhod ko,” he went on as he described going through astroscopic surgery for his right knee. “Pinapalakas ko. Malakas naman yung legs ko ngayon.”
Yap mentioned going through practice with a different mentality: to get his game going again. As soon as the Elasto Painters were eliminated in the Philippine Cup, he went into the offseason in attack mode. Already a seasoned pro and a proven champion, it was as if he was still trying to show that he still has a lot left in the tank.
“Nung offseason pa, medyo maganda takbo niya sa practice,” RoS head coach Caloy Garcia said about his star. “He was working hard. He comes in early, shoots the ball, minsan pa dunk-dunk pa sa practice para ipakita samin na okay na siya.”
“Bago dumating itong Commissioner’s Cup, nagpa-condition ako,” Yap shared.
Truth be told, Yap definitely looks like he slimmed down. On Friday night, he played a total of 28 minutes, including the entire fourth quarter, and didn’t look exhausted at all. When the final buzzer sounded, he could have played for another extra five minutes.
But getting back into game shape wasn’t the only thing that Yap needed to work on. He needed to gel with his new team. He had to reinsert himself into a veteran squad like Rain or Shine.
“Every practice talagang naka-focus kami ni J-Wash [Jay Washington] kasi kami mga bago ng team,” Yap explained. “So naka-focus kami every practice. Pag di namin maintindhan yung play, lalapit kami kay Coach Caloy.”
Against the Road Warriors, Yap and company were in sync with one another. As a team, Rain or Shine shot 47 percent from the field on 23 assists.
“Ang hinihingi ko naman kay James every game is for him to put some effort on defense. We don’t want anybody on the team to be a liability. And so far, even in the tune-up games, he was pushing himself on defense. And today he did a good job,” coach Caloy added.
Undoubtedly, Friday night was Yap’s best game wearing the Rain or Shine jersey. With a clean bill of health and getting more accustomed with his team, we might see a resurgence from the veteran scorer.
“I’m happy na lumabas yung pinaghirapan ko,” Yap beamed. “Sana tuloy-tuloy.”
The new PBA conference is underway, and we might just see the old James Yap back.