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After forgettable TNT Tropang Giga stint, Gab Banal keen on moving forward

Gab Banal is looking to enjoy his basketball again with Blackwater Bossing after a forgettable stint with TNT Tropang Giga. PBA Media Bureau

Gab Banal was in a good mood.

Following a convincing win by Blackwater Bossing over Phoenix Super LPG last Saturday, the 32-year-old swingman flashed a huge grin as he emerged from the locker room to meet reporters waiting just outside the door.

The victory was more than a skid-buster for the Bossing -- losers of seven straight games before getting back on track and taking their first win of the 2022-23 PBA Commissioner's Cup.

For Banal, it was a breath of fresh air.

After completely losing minutes in TNT and putting up a stinker in his first game with his new team, the 6-foot-3 forward bounced back and came up big off the bench with a nice all-around line (ten points, five rebounds, five assists, four steals, two triples) to spark Blackwater and remind everyone what he brings to the table -- that he merits a spot alongside the best of them.

Finally, Banal was free.

"Actually one-conference break ako eh," Banal said with a hearty laugh. "Napagod ako eh. Tagal kong hindi naglaro eh. Pero ang sarap maglaro. It's fun."

Banal's first three conferences back in the PBA after being out of the league since 2017 has been a rollercoaster ride of sorts.

After signing with the now-defunct Alaska Aces in 2021, he carved out a niche as one of the league's best shooters before bolting in free agency to sign a two-year deal with TNT.

There was an expectation that Banal would play a prominent role on a TNT team that regularly ranked among the most trigger-happy teams from downtown, but for some reason the role never materialized

After playing 15.7 minutes through ten games in the 2021 Governors' Cup, Banal's minutes with the Tropang Giga basically evaporated (5.6 minutes average) in the 2022 Philippine Cup as he logged more DNPs (Did Not Play - Coach's Decision) than games played.

It might sound easy to deride Banal's decision to leave Alaska in the first place, but hindsight is always 20/20; TNT also reportedly presented a more stable deal that trumped the one-conference extension offered by the Aces, who later sold to a Converge FiberXers franchise that went through a roster overhaul of its own, too.

Bets were made even though nothing was guaranteed. You win some, you lose some -- and that's why Banal isn't really too keen on looking back.

"TNT kasi is a strong team. They were the defending champions and then they got me. Parang ang hirap baguhin ng lineup, nag-champion nga eh 'di ba," Banal explained.

"You only play five players talaga sa court eh. So I understand what happened. But it's better to move on and stay in the present."

The present -- and the future -- provide alluring opportunities.

On a Blackwater team that lacks size and consistent production at the wings, Banal has a chance to solidify his role and actually play in a more expanded role instead of being typecast as just a shooter.

Banal didn't really get off to a great start in Blackwater, though. Three days before busting out against Phoenix, he actually logged 17 scoreless minutes and missed all of his five shots in a massive blowout loss against Bay Area Dragons.

"I was hard on him," head coach Ariel Vanguardia said after the Phoenix win. "I was telling him, 'You can't play 17 minutes and have zero points'."

For Banal, it was simply a case of being kept in the ice for too long. "Kapag you haven't played that long, 'yung timing tsaka rhythm nawawala eh. I just had to do a lot of extra work," Banal shared.

"That's life. It's a new opportunity for me. It's all about perspective. I just have to make the most of the opportunity given to me."

Banal certainly did just that against Phoenix.

His stat line wasn't exactly eye-popping, but he flashed an impactful, well-rounded game on both ends; Banal fired with zero hesitation on catch-and-shoot shots from deep, made great passes off the post, and disrupted drives and passing lanes with his hands and timing in 31 minutes of play.

Blackwater won by 21 points when he was on the floor, and lost by nine points when he sat.

"I told him, 'Ikaw 'yung hinahanap ko na tres na matangkad eh,'" Vanguardia remarked.

"My role in TNT was 3-and-D because that's what they needed. But I know I can produce more," said Banal.

"I'm not just a shooter -- I can do a lot of different things inside the court, like be a leader, be vocal, and help my teammates out, dish assists, be a playmaker, defend, match up with bigger guys or smaller guys. And I think I fill the void here in Blackwater."

The idealized version of Banal should look a little closer to the guy who shot the lights out in 2021 while growing as one of the better passers at the 2 and 3 spots outside the PBA.

Last season, Banal sank 46.6% of his 3.5 attempts from deep -- a league-high mark (minimum 30 makes); before that, he handed out 6.2 assists in two MPBL seasons as he thrived in a main role in that league.

But Banal's not getting ahead of himself. "I just needed to get that momentum back," he expressed. "Ang hirap kapag matagal kang hindi naglaro. 'Yung confidence mo bumababa. I'm just blessed and thankful that I've been given the opportunity to play again."