When the San Miguel Beermen started their PBA dynasty in 2015, they did it winning 2 out of 3 conferences that season. After grinding out a game 7 win against Alaska in the Philippine Cup, the Beermen won that season’s Governor’s Cup handily with veteran reinforcement Arizona Reid in tow. What was expected to be a repeat of the Philippine Cup slugfest turned into an epic finals sweep.
Reid fell into the lap of the Beermen when in the middle of the Commissioner’s Cup the then newly crowned Philippine Cup champions fell into a deep 0-4 hole following lackluster performances from their reinforcement coupled with sluggish play from their main crew.
Before donning the red, yellow and white, Arizona Reid was already an accomplished reinforcement in the PBA having received “Best Import” honors twice and bringing the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters to the deep playoff runs, only to fall short each time. Suffice to say he knew his way around the block.
This is what made him such a perfect fit for the Beermen that conference. After heeding the cry for succor in the Commissioner’s Cup, Reid fell in love with the Beermen system and just wouldn’t let go, choosing not to return to the Elastopainters, much to the ire of coach Yeng Guiao.
It was a time before the “Death Five”, before “overwhelming chemistry”, before overcoming a 0-3 deficit and most importantly before “age”.
The core that made up the Beermen was relatively young then. They were full of energy, full of ambition, full of talent but they were raw. June Mar, for all his dominance, had not yet become the unstoppable post presence that he is now. Marcio, while already a shooter, did not yet have the arsenal of escape dribbles and off-ball catches he has now. Ross wasn’t a shooter then, and Alex Cabagnot
had his original nose was less of a loose cannon.
Bringing in a talented veteran in Arizona Reid made perfect sense for an up-and-coming dynasty to be. Whenever the offense broke down for them, they would feed Reid the ball and watch him work, ready to pounce on opportunities. Marcio Lassiter had a field day working off the extra attention Reid got, shooting upwards of 60% from the left corner that playoffs.
He was everything they needed, and more, bringing his veteran poise and scoring ability fueled by a deep hunger for a championship, one strong enough for him to go to town on Alaska and make sure the series ended as quickly as possible.
Fast forward to 2019, and the San Miguel Beermen tapped the services of Chris McCullough, an amazing athlete with immense talent and potential through the roof. But, as many would point out, he’s young. In fact he is the youngest among the Beermen right now, which makes him the perfect fit for his team.
Right off the gates, Chris McCullough demonstrated why he was a first round pick in the NBA, readily dominating the NLEX Road Warriors with 47 points. He was chasing down shots, pulling up from three and slamming down alley-oops. Without a doubt Chris McCullough was a scoring machine like none other. But the Beermen have had their share of scoring machines, ball-dominant, crafty with NBA-level talent, yet not all of them have fit in with the Beermen.
Setting McCullough apart from everyone else is what many commentators claim to be his biggest downside— his youth.
In many instances, those commentators were justified. Toward the end of Game 3 of the Finals, McCullough “showed his youth and inexperience” by stymying the Beermen’s offense, holding the ball for too long only to put up a forced shot on the drive, failing to score. Yet this is a scene we see from too many reinforcements in the PBA, even the veterans have this habit of taking it upon themselves to give their team the win.
Where others see immaturity in McCullough, the signs seem to point to the opposite. Being an NBA level talent capable of dunking over 100 percent of the players in front of him, there’s a huge temptation for Chris to just take over every possession and get his. We saw what he can do in the semi-finals where he scored 51 points against Rain or Shine. Yet in the series clincher, it was a last minute drive by McCullough that put the Beermen in position to win the series. Down the middle of the lane, Chris made a layup through immense traffic, a shot he attempted a few possessions earlier, only this time, he adjusted.
An ability and willingness to adjust is what makes the [trademarked] friend chicken-loving Chris McCullough so special, not only in terms of being an SMB reinforcement, but also as a young athlete. He can and is willing to learn from past mistakes, something we saw a lot of in Game 4 of the Finals.
Unlike his predecessors, Chris doesn’t have to do it alone. He doesn’t have to provide stability to a team on the rise. The Beermen have been there, done that. His teammates have been in the trenches together for way too many battles. They are known as the “Death Five”, conjurers of the “Beeracle”, unleashers of the Kraken. June Mar, as shown in the Finals, is an incredible force to be reckoned with in the paint. Marcio might be out but if he was there, would be a nightmare for opposing back courts to guard with or without the ball. Ross is now a legitimate shooting threat and Alex Cabagnot is the embodiment of controlled chaos, a tried and tested bad-shot maker. Arwind Santos, who reinforcements often take minutes from, will forever be Arwind Santos.
What the Beermen have needed from Chris isn’t for him to carry them, not to take the load away from them, but for him to be the amazing athlete and scoring machine that he is. What they’ve asked from him, and he has delivered in their wins, is for him to be an extraordinary teammate. Gone are the days when Ross and Cabagnot could out-effort everyone on the floor, or when Arwind was the most athletic player on both teams. Age is definitely becoming a factor for the main crew of the Beermen, reducing their athleticism and ability to recover after games, something they have made up for with their experience. This makes Chris McCullough the perfect reinforcement for them, an infusion of youth, energy and explosiveness to serve as the cavalry charge to complement the battle hardened infantry.
Without a doubt, Chris McCullough would still average 30 points a game playing with any team in the PBA. He is a scoring machine, we are all witness to that. It’s the perfect pairing of circumstances between reinforcement and team that makes his stint extra special. Other than Terrence Jones running Talk N Text’s NBA-level offensive system, no other reinforcement has looked so “at home” with their team basketball-wise, than McCullough.
Call it luck, good fortune, a deliberate selection, for whatever reason the Beermen chose to bring McCullough in, the fact that he fits into the team so well is a reflection of how far the Beermen dynasty has come and how good an athlete McCullough is.