Santos vouches for Austria: ‘Greatest’ Beermen coach ever

Before being dealt to NorthPort, Arwind Santos (right) spent much of his career as a member of Leo Austria’s “Death Five.” —PBA IMAGES

From afar, Arwind Santos is watching San Miguel Beer’s new era unfolding.

An integral cog in many of the club’s Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) championship runs in the past, Santos waxed sentimental over former coach Leo Austria’s appointment to a less hands-on role.

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“I feel sad for coach Leo. For me, it’s not yet time for him to move on,” the NorthPort veteran told the Inquirer in Filipino. “Firstly, he was coming off a championship run in the all-Filipino. If for three conferences and they didn’t win one, [the move] would’ve made sense.”

Austria asked to take a sabbatical citing personal reasons, according to team manager Gee Abanilla. The nine-time champion coach’s son Bacon, however, wrote on Twitter that “people can’t even get their statements right. Scrambling for imaginary excuses,” fueling speculations that the seasoned mentor was eased out from the club’s helm.

Santos, who spent his most successful San Miguel years under Austria, said he isn’t privy to the details surrounding Beermen’s coaching change, but he also understands that certain decisions are to be respected.

Dominant reign

But he will continue advocating for Austria, whom he holds in the highest regard among all the coaches who have taken charge of the franchise.

“Coach Leo is one of the few who gave San Miguel quite the record in the history of coaching,” he said. “If someone asks me who was the best coach for San Miguel? It’s coach Leo.”

Austria’s run with the Beermen featured a dominant five-year reign in the league’s centerpiece Philippine Cup, and multiple Coach of the Year trophies.

“When I’m done with this game and already coaching young people or even my kids, if someone comes up to me and asks who was the greatest coach of San Miguel is, it’s coach Leo. And the strongest lineup—us, the Death Five [of June Mar Fajardo, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Ross and Alex Cabagnot].”

“I will always proudly say that,” he said.

As San Miguel navigates its Governors’ Cup with a new coach, so are TNT and Phoenix—two clubs that will figure in the nightcap of Wednesday’s double-header at Smart Araneta Coliseum in Cubao, Quezon City.

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Focus on Gilas

Jojo Lastimosa, formerly Tropang Giga’s team manager, will call the shots for the perennial contenders who look to perform well with Chot Reyes focusing on Gilas Pilipinas duty.

Jamike Jarin, meanwhile, gets to steer a new-look Fuel Masters, who will now rebuild after the departure of Topex Robinson.

Also locking horns at the Big Dome are Blackwater and NLEX, which is reportedly going all-Filipino for the time being as original import Jonathon Simmons decided to instead entertain an offer from a pro club in China.

Simmons was supposed to be a marquee attraction in the PBA Governors’ Cup.