SINCE his FIBA-imposed suspension was lifted in late August and finally returning to PBA action, Kiefer Ravena has been doing it all for NLEX, scoring, assisting and rebounding.
The 25-year-old is being asked to add another role, which is to help speed up Manny Harris’ acclimatization to the Road Warriors’ style of play and his local teammates.
Such fast-tracking is necessary because Harris is set to be introduced to league play when NLEX takes on dangerous Columbian today in the Governors Cup at the Ynares Center in Antipolo.
In the nightcap, defending champion Magnolia tries to get back on track when it battles a Blackwater crew also bristling to bounce back from a loss.
The Hotshots are coming off a sorry 89-90 decision to San Miguel Beer last Friday, cutting short their winning streak at three and relegating them to fourth.
What should even out the odds is the fact Marqus Blakely has been activated by Blackwater in lieu of Aaron Fuller and the former Best Import now gets to face his original PBA team.
Magnolia’s Romeo Travis, meanwhile, is still not 100 percent due to the ankle sprain he suffered in the SMB game.
Inclusion among the top four is precisely what NLEX is targeting and is trying to bolster that bid by bringing in Harris for Olu Ashaolu, who has been deemed incapable of helping the Road Warriors go deep in the season-ending conference.
A top four finish is rewarded with a twice-to-beat advantage over a lower-ranked foe in the eight-team quarterfinals.
Harris flew in just last Saturday and has been cramming up on the team’s plays while getting to know his teammates better.
That’s where Ravena comes in.
Harris and Ravena got to know each other during their stint with the Texas Legends in NBA D-League play in 2016, when Harris was on the active list and Ravena, then just 22, in the team’s developmental roster.
Despite Ravena’s help, NLEX coach Yeng Guiao has his concerns.
“Having a new import and blending him with the team in a short period of time,” noted Guiao. “We’re just hoping that we are able to defend their guards and import enough to minimize their efficiency.”
Indeed, Columbian seems to have fully put its former tag of whipping boy behind it, thanks mainly to the sterling plays of Khapri Alston and rookie sensation CJ Perez.
“They’re a very dangerous team, one that’s getting better every game,” said Guiao. “Their confidence level is very high and they are coming together as a team.”
Coach Johnedel Cardel is hoping Harris’ relative unfamiliarity with NLEX would work to the advantage of the Dyip, who are hoping to get past the eliminations for the first time under him and should move closer to that goal with a fitting follow-up to their 102-90 win over Blackwater also last Friday.
“Siyempre, bagong import at hindi pa sanay dito sa PBA style of play kaya p’wedeng maging disadvantage sa kanila iyon,” said Cardel.
“Pero meron pa rin silang Kiefer and the other guards kaya we have to do a good job of defending their backcourt like what we did against Blackwater para mas gumanda chances naming manalo,” added Cardel.
Ravena has been averaging 18.6 points, 9.40 assists and 5.0 rebounds and is coming off a 13-point, 17-assist performance in NLEX’s 113-111 overtime victory over Ginebra last Oct. 5 in Dubai.
Philip Paniamogan, Kenneth Ighalo, JR Quinahan and Bong Galanza have also been relatively consistent for Guiao, but Harris should help.
Based on his wide experience that included stints in Ukraine, Greece, China and most recently Turkey, and innate basketball savvy, Harris should be a quick study.
The former Michigan standout is a known scorer since his high school and college days that earned him stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers and, briefly, with the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA.