The Phoenix Fuel Masters finally assembles a promising core that could pull off a huge run in the Governors Cup playoffs

By Klyde Manansala | Photo by Tristan Tamayo | Art by Marian Hukom

It’s senseless not to feel like there’s something positive brewing in the Phoenix Fuel Masters dugout this season. What was once a team that often found themselves at the bottom of the standings had just achieved its biggest franchise milestone yesterday with a win over Blackwater Elite: a second seed with a twice-to-beat advantage.

The team’s renewed identity has fully been realized in large part due to Calvin Abueva—though controversial at times, the Beast has proven himself to be a real game-changer for the two-year-old team.

After being acquired from the Alaska Aces in exchange for Karl Dehesa and a first-round pick, the disgruntled forward has certainly left his imprint on the Fuel Masters with his familiar plays. the Fuel Masters is finally starting to embrace a winning culture all because of Calvin being, well, Calvin.

“Historically, the Fuel Masters aren’t contenders. But ever since Abueva’s career shift to coach Louie Alas’ system, they’ve come a long way—in ways we haven’t seen before

It’s quite easy to see the progress of the Fuel Masters since the arrival of Abueva. Through 11 games, the Fuel Masters has outscored its opponents by 10.4 points more every time the Beast is on the hard court. Abueva made the most of his 23.2 minutes by contributing on both ends of the floor. Import Eugene Phelps tallied the biggest numbers in the eliminations round, but Abueva’s fitting energy did the most wonders for the team by complementing Phelps’ game production.

Behind Phelps’ total 204 rebounds in a span of 11 games, Abueva came in second with a total of 101 boards, 41 of which were offensive rebounds that provided extra possessions for the Fuel Masters. Right now, the Fuel Masters lead the league in rebounding with 56.8 percent average.

In terms of offensive output, Abueva put up 15.4 points per game—the second highest output for the Fuel Master. In last year’s Governors Cup, Brandon Brown took over an injured Phelps. He then went toe-to-toe with the other teams as he averaged 34.8 points and 17.7 rebounds per game. The next lone bright spot was Matthew Wright—an offensive-minded player who averaged 15.7 points and 6.3 boards per game.

“Everyone was so used to seeing the Fuel Masters on the losing end, to the point that anybody hardly talked about how huge their leap was. The big question that’s hanging now is how long will this Abueva-led squad play this good?

The Fuel Masters evidently struggled in finding consistent productive players on their roster with only a limited number of players able to deliver efficiently. Unsurprisingly, they were quickly kicked out of the picture after registering just two victories.

Historically, the Fuel Masters aren’t contenders. But ever since Abueva’s career shift to coach Louie Alas’ system, they’ve come a long way—in ways we haven’t seen before. Eight of 15 Fuel Masters last year remained with the roster this year, with Abueva, a steady point guard in LA Revilla, big man Justin Chua, and potential Rookie of the Year Jason Perkins as the only notable additions. With the current lineup however, we still can’t possibly place them above the Ginebra Kings or San Miguel Beermen, that’s for sure.

But their 8-3 elimination round record already hints at what they’re capable of. Everyone was so used to seeing the Fuel Masters on the losing end, to the point that anybody hardly talked about how huge their leap was. The big question that’s hanging now is how long will this Abueva-led squad play this good?

“For the first time in a long while, the Fuel Masters can be considered a good team that has finally found a sense of direction—and it’s the only significant thing worth taking note right now

The Fuel Masters has settled for a sensible lineup template: Revilla is a smart floor facilitator; Wright and RJ Jazul are lethal outside shooters on the wings; Perkins scores and defends; Phelps is a monster inside the paint; and Abueva, well, he is Abueva. They have a solid starting five but having a reliable second unit is the key for them to really make a mark in the league. If major roster changes won’t happen within the next few conferences, they’ll be feeling the effects of a lack of depth in the team, but chances are, they won’t be at the bottom of the standings anymore.

There are still tons of questions that they have to answer. What if Abueva goes AWOL for no apparent reason like what he did with Alaska? Will he stay longer than expected? Can they win without the help of Phelps? These are intriguing questions for a rising team, but now’s not the time to worry about that. For the first time in a long while, the Fuel Masters can be considered a good team that has finally found a sense of direction—and it’s the only significant thing worth taking note right now. Watch out, PBA.