Those three kept Kevin Alas going during his long journey of recovery after suffering an ACL tear in last year’s PBA All-Filipino conference. Alas had been a cornerstone of the NLEX Road Warriors’ offense when he went down during their first semis appearance in team history.
From there, he watched from behind the bench as his team’s strong start turned into a series of challenges—his backcourt partner Kiefer Ravena was sidelined as well, Larry Fonacier sustained a collapsed lung, the team failed to make the playoffs during the Commissioner’s Cup, and were outmatched in the quarterfinals of the Governor’s Cup.
Last Friday, Alas played his first game in almost a year. Though the Road Warriors lost to the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, Alas scored 12 points off the bench. General consensus remains that his return is one of many factors what will finally take their team to contender status in 2019. Apart from Alas’ comeback, the team acquired Gilas Pilipinas big man Poy Erram in the off-season, while Ravena is expected to return in August.
“Wala akong worries about my knee,” Alas shares. “In a way, blessing in disguise ‘yung injury ko because I was forced to identify my weaknesses and strengthen muscles na dati hindi ko masyadong pinapansin. So I’m feeling good. The advice of my PTs is the more scared you are, the more likely you are to re-injure it kasi hindi magiging natural ‘yung galaw mo.”
“Kevin’s in great shape. Probably the greatest shape of his life,” adds Fonacier, who despite being the team captain, says: “It’s Kevin’s team. We’ll follow where he leads and see how far he’ll take us.”
Alas, however, is reminding himself to remain patient. “Physically, ‘yung body ko 100% na, pero siguro I need to work on my game shape,” he says. “Iba pa rin ‘yung style at intensity ng sa practice at sa game itself.”
And while their new and improved line-up is cause for excitement, Alas says that also comes with its own challenges. “Half of the team, ngayon ko lang naging teammate. So we’re working on gelling together, kasi iba ‘yung nakasama mo for a long time,” he shares. “Nami-miss ko rin si Kiefer. We all know what Kiefer brings to the table but it’s a chance and the challenge for all of us guards to produce, not just in points but in rebounds and other parts of the game.”
If you ask Road Warriors head coach Yeng Guiao, his players are rising to the challenge. “Poy and Kevin are the game changers. But after that, it’s the hard work that all of the guys put in. They come in early, leave late, make the extra effort to get themselves in shape.”
You can pin down this extra effort to the fact that the team still sees itself as underdogs this season—albeit underdogs who have more fight in them than before.
“For me, I just want to prove to myself I can be better than before,” Alas says. “Super excited ako sa 2019 kasi sa huling All-Filipino, we made it to the semis na kumpleto kami so we look forward to being complete again within the year. Sana this year, makatikim na kami ng championship.”
Photos from PBA.ph