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ABL: Examining the 2013 San Miguel Beermen line-up

January 10, 2013 3:00pm

The San Miguel Beermen look to build on their promising start in the ASEAN Basketball League with a new coach and an overhauled squad.

In just their inaugural season in the league, the San Miguel Beermen racked up a league-best 17-4 record, before losing to the Indonesia Warriors in the Finals. This year, with the other Philippine team, the AirAsia Philippine Patriots, begging out of the league, San Miguel remains the only Philippine squad.

San Miguel coach Leo Austria, who takes over at the head coach position from former seven-time PBA Best Import Bobby Parks, will have a mix of imports and former PBA MVPs at his disposal, in addition to last year’s holdovers, which include 2012 ABL MVP Leo Avenido.

Before the ABL kicks off with a Finals rematch between San Miguel and Indonesia on January 11, Friday, let’s take a look at who will represent the Philippines in this international league.

The 2013 San Miguel Beermen pose for posterity, prior to the tip-off for the next ABL season. Jeff Venancio

Returning players:

Leonidez Avenido (#18), 6’2”, Guard

Leo Avenido averaged 14.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.9 assists, along with 2.0 treys a game on 39 percent shooting from long range, en route to winning the ABL’s local MVP award, becoming the first Filipino to cop the prize.

An ABL veteran, Avenido played for a different foreign team in his first two years in the league (with the Brunei Barracudas in 2009 and the Singapore Slingers in 2010) before settling with San Miguel. A former Far Eastern University Tamaraw, Avenido was drafted 10th overall in the 2002 PBA Draft by Coca-Cola, but also had stints with Talk ‘N Text and Air21.

Christopher Clark Banchero (#2), 6’1”, Guard

Filipino-Italian Christopher Banchero is a holdover from last season’s San Miguel squad, where he averaged 13.2 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 4.8 assists. He doesn’t take many shots from long range, but is a steady distributor and the team’s starting point guard. Banchero played in the US NCAA for the Seattle Pacific University Falcons, a Division II school, where he was a Second Team All-American and ranked 8th on the school’s all-time scoring list.

Banchero could have made more waves, but his collegiate career was cut short in 2011 when he suffered an ACL tear midway through his senior season. San Miguel is the only team he has played for in his professional career.

Christian Luanzon (#3), 6’4”, Forward

The former University of Santo Tomas Tiger was drafted 18th overall in the 2006 PBA draft, by the Alaska Aces, and was on the team that won the 2007 PBA Fiesta Conference championship. Luanzon also had an extensive stint in the PBL, concurrently and after his collegiate career, winning the PBL Rookie of the Year award and making several mythical second teams while playing for several different PBL teams.

Ryan Joseph “RJ” Rizada (#23), 6’2”, Guard

A member of the 2005-06 UAAP champion Far Eastern University Tamaraws squad, Rizada was drafted 12th overall in the 2006 PBA draft, by Coca-Cola. The Davao native formerly played with the PBL’s Magnolia squad, and has spent most of his PBA career with the renamed Coca-Cola squad, the Powerade Tigers, before joining the Petron Blaze Boosters and subsequently, the San Miguel ABL squad, where he will be co-captain this season.

New Players


Gabriel Freeman (#25), 6’6”, Forward/Center

The American big man boasts of the most extensive foreign experience in the team, having played in the US Continental Basketball Association, Australia, and Canada. Gabe Freeman is no stranger to Philippine basketball, having played as an import for San Miguel in 2009, and even competing in the PBA Slam Dunk contest that year. Freeman was awarded Best Import in the PBA Fiesta Conference finals that season, and helped lead San Miguel to its 18th title against Ginebra.

Freeman played in Australia for a bit before returning to the Philippines to join the AirAsia Philippine Patriots, the country’s first representative team in the ABL, whom he led to a championship. Later in 2010, he was again employed with San Miguel, and was awarded Best Import for the second consecutive PBA season. He rejoined the Patriots in the 2011 ABL season, but they were unable to capture the title. After stints in the US and Canada, Freeman returns to the join the San Miguel squad as the Philippine representatives for this ABL season.

Brian Williams (#33), 6’10”, Center

The second import and the tallest player on the San Miguel squad, Williams played collegiate ball with the University of Tennessee Volunteers from 2007-11, where he was named SEC Sixth Man of the Year in 2010-11 with averages of 6.8 points and 7.4 rebounds in 23 minutes per game.

Williams took his career overseas after going undrafted in the 2011 NBA draft. He played with the Westports Malaysia Dragons in the 2011-12 ABL season, with averages of 20.1 points on 54% shooting, 14.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game. Now, he takes his talents to the San Miguel front court as the probable starting center of the Beermen.


Eric Conrad Menk (#30), 6’6”, Forward/Center

One of the elder statesmen of the team, Filipino-American Eric “Major Pain” Menk has been a PBA mainstay since 1999, playing for Barangay Ginebra for more than a decade, and winning the 2004-05 PBA MVP award. Menk started his Philippine career in 1997, when he played in the PBL for the Tanduay Rhum Masters, and won the Rookie of the Year award. He entered the PBA in 1999 as part of the Tanduay team who were picked to be elevated to the PBA.

A former member of the Philippine national team, Menk has been oft-injured in the past few years, and has played sparingly, but provides this San Miguel team with size in their frontcourt.

Pauliasi Taulava (#88), 6’9”, Center

Does Asi Taulava really need any more introduction? The Fil-Tongan has been a PBA mainstay since he entered the league in 1998-99 with Mobiline (now Talk 'N Text). Asi, also known by his nickname “The Rock,” played a couple of years in the PBL before joining the PBA, where he would be a franchise player for Talk ‘N Text before spending the past four years with Coca-Cola and Meralco. Taulava now joins his former PBL and PBA rival Erik Menk in a formidable – if aging – frontcourt for San Miguel.

Taulava has won the PBA MVP award, as well as being a regular on Mythical First, Second, and All Defensive teams. A member of the Philippine national team since 2002, Taulava was most recently a member of the Meralco Bolts, where he averaged 8.2 points and 8.7 rebounds in 26 minutes a game in 2011-12. In September of last year, Taulava declined Meralco’s 2 year max deal offer to sign a 3 year deal to play for the San Miguel Beermen, where he was named co-captain along with RJ Rizada.

Michael Andre Burtscher (#63), 6’6”, Forward

A PBL veteran, Mike Burtscher played with Cebuana Lhuillier, Pharex, and Noosa, before playing in Liga Filipinas (2 conferences with Forward Taguig) in 2008. He was then drafted sixth overall in the 2009 PBA draft, by the Alaska Aces. The Fil-Swiss forward, who only turns 27 this year, played sparingly with Alaska from 2009-10, and with B-Meg in 2011-12.

Axel John Doruelo (#45), 5’10”, Guard

Doruelo, a University of the Philippines Diliman product, went undrafted in 2009 PBA Draft and had previously played in the ABL with the Thailand Tigers, who are now known as the Chang Thailand Slammers. Doruelo has played with different teams in the PBL, and signed with the PBA’s Petron Blaze Boosters in the 2011-12 season before joining the San Miguel squad.

Dean Paulo Hubalde (#12), 5’11”, Guard

The son of former PBA star Freddie Hubalde, this former University of the East Red Warrior played on the teams led by James Yap in the early 2000s. Hubalde was drafted eightth overall in the 2005 PBA Draft by San Miguel, and also played for Barangay Ginebra, Barako Bull, and Air21/ teams. He was traded to Petron this year and was moved to the San Miguel ABL team.

Hans Paul Franz Thiele, Jr. (#11), 6’5”, Forward/ Center

Another former University of the East Red Warrior, Thiele went undrafted in the 2010 PBA Draft but was signed by Barako Bull to boost their frontcourt. Thiele has played for several teams throughout his PBA career, with stints for Barako Bull (2010), Meralco (2010-11), and Alaska (2011-12), before being traded to Petron and subsequently joining the SMB ABL team.

Hezy Val Acuña II (#6), 6’4”, Guard/ Forward

The third former UE Red Warrior on the San Miguel squad, Acuña landed in the PBL with Bacchus Energy Drink, and played in the 2009-10 ABL season with the Philippine Patriots, where he was teammates with current San Miguel import Gabe Freeman on that squad, and won the ABL championship. Acuña was drafted 13th overall in the 2010 PBA draft by B-Meg, and was traded on draft day in the 2012 PBA Draft to GlobalPort.

Ricardo Cawaling, Jr. (#15), 6’4”, Forward

One of the youngest member of the Beermen in terms of professional experience, Ric “JR” Cawaling was a former FEU Tamaraw and was the UAAP Rookie of the Year in 2008. A former member of the Smart-Gilas Philippine team, Cawaling begged off from the 2012 PBA draft just three days before the draft, opting to join the San Miguel Beermen for the ABL. Coming from an ACL injury in his last collegiate season, Cawaling hopes to regain the form he showed when he starred for FEU.

- AMD, GMA News
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