What Long Lay-off? Arvin Tolentino Shrugs Off 26-Day Break Between Games

A 26-day break did nothing to slow down sweet-shooting Arvin Tolentino and the red-hot NorthPort Batang Pier.

Entering the NorthPort Batang Pier’s Friday game against the dangerous TNT Tropang Giga in the 2024 PBA Philippine Cup, there was some apprehension from observers as to whether the Batang Pier would be sharp or sluggish.

After all, they last played on March 10, a 90-85 win over the Meralco Bolts. A quirk in the league scheduling gave NorthPort an extended break of 26 days, mostly due to the PBA All-Star Weekend in Bacolod followed by the Holy Week break.

In turns out, it was the Tropang Giga who looked like they had come off a long lay-off. Looking sharp from the get-go, the Batang Pier raced to a 61-34 halftime lead before cruising to a surprisingly easy 112-96 win, their fourth straight.

“Honestly, hindi ako nagulat sa the way they played,” said coach Bonnie Tan of his team, which is now in second place with a 4-1 record. “Kasi ginagawa sa practice. Magugulat ako kapag hindi nila ginagawa sa practice sabay ginawa nila sa game. I’m happy that they’re responding sa game plan. Hopefully praying for consistency for the next three weeks namin. Mga ganun lang, and for sure we’ll be in a better spot after this elimination.

“Iyon ang concern namin, iyong gusto namin gawin during the first four games namin, medyo na-break. We just practiced iyong timing namin. Excited kami, actually. Lahat ng mga players excited sa practice to showcase their talent and to contribute sa team. I just requested the players to be consistent.”

The Batang Pier’s high-octane offense has not only been fun to watch, it’s helped catapult them to the top tier of the standings halfway through the elimination round. They’re tops in points per game (107.6) and second in fastbreak points per game (23.4).

“Basically we’re a young team, so we have to take advantage of that aspect,” Tan explained. “We have a running game. We also have point guards na pass-first, a lot of forward passes, a lot of run-and-gun game.

“Just keep on working hard, just stick together. We don’t have a legit big, so one way of beating mga may legit bigs is to outrun the opponent.”

Leading the way is sharpshooter Arvin Tolentino, who is second in scoring this conference with 24.0PPG, behind only former teammate Robert Bolick’s 30.PPG. Against the Tropang Giga, Tolentino scattered 29 points in just 31 minutes, and yet, he’s still trying to up his game.

Feeling ko sa sarili ko, kulang pa,” he said. “I don’t really see myself as a complete player. Once na pumasok sa isip ko iyon, doon na mag-start ang downfall in every player. I just always put in my mind na marami pa akong kulang and I just have to work hard sa practice. Doing extra work, shooting skills, weight room. Iyon ang everyday routine ko, to be a better player, be better than yesterday. I can never stop working on my game.”

Tolentino is only in his fifth season, but he is already a veteran on this young NorthPort team.

“I just try to do the right things, to set an example to these guys and also encourage them,” he said about being a leader. “Make sure na lahat kami may kumpiyansa coming into every practice and every game. Nag-rerespond naman ang mga teammates ko. Lahat naman kami talented. Just do the right thing and compete every day in practice and most especially sa game.”

Consistency is the key

With that long break behind them, the Batang Pier are now going in the opposite direction. Their game against TNT was the first of seven to be played over three weeks. Tan has been hammering home the need for his players to maintain their stellar play as they brace for tough games against Magnolia, Barangay Ginebra, Rain or Shine and San Miguel over an 11-day span.

Iyong request ko, to stay consistent,” he said. “Aside from mga practice na maganda ang pinapakita nila, iyon ang request ko at binigay sakin ang laro na gusto natin.

Iyong three-week break namin, hopefully naka contribute sa mindset ng mga players. For the three weeks na darating, we have seven games. Isa-isa lang. Madala namin na baon ang three-week break namin.”

Tolentino believes that as long as they exhibit the passion and commitment they’ve been showing in practice, they’ll be fine.

“The past few weeks, lahat ng mga players talagang nagco-compete. From the first group up to the last guy. Ang tagal namin hindi naglaro, so iyon ang sini-mulate namin. Sa practice mag-start na ang competition namin.

“And we’re also a young team. Maraming mga bata sa team namin na talagang hungry to prove something sa liga. Iyon iyong malaking contribution kung bakit kami nagcocompete ngayon.

“This team is trying to prove something, and as individuals also.”

(Banner image from PBA Media Bureau)

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