Converge FiberXers became the first team in the 2023 PBA Governors' Cup to make an import change, bringing in Jamaal Franklin for Ethan Rusbatch just four days after the team walloped NorthPort Batang Pier by 30.
Rusbatch, the first New Zealander to play in the PBA, had 17 points and nine rebounds in 37 minutes, numbers that apparently failed to impress team management.
"Not bad, but could be better," Converge team governor Chito Salud told ESPN. "You know how it is in the PBA. After a game or two, coaches will decide whether the import is a fit or not. So that's the route they (coaches) took."
Rusbatch's fate could have been sealed even before the Governors' Cup opened last Sunday as Franklin revealed that he arrived in Manila as early as Saturday.
"I got here Saturday morning," he said. "Coach (Aldin Ayo) and (assistant coach) Franco (Atienza) and the strength and conditioning coach, they made sure I got my legs faster. I haven't been here a week, so all the credit goes to the coaching staff, getting me prepared for the game. I've only had two practices with the team so I need to learn the details. We got good chemistry already with just two practices."
Franklin, who played alongside NBA star Kawhi Leonard at San Diego State, had an explosive debut on Thursday, pouring in 42 points to lead the FiberXers to their second straight win, a 130-115 thrashing of Terrafirma Dyip.
The Dyip, who posted a solitary win in the Commissioner's Cup, actually led 71-68 at halftime in what Ayo likened to an All-Star Game.
"Our problem was the first half. It was like an All-Star Game. 71 points in two quarters. We have to work on our defense. Last conference we were ranked 9th so that's not good. Our objective is to improve on defense."
But the FiberXers turned up the heat in the second half as the Dyip's import Jordan Williams, who had 30 points at halftime, was limited to just 18 the rest of the way.
"We got a great coach," Franklin said of Ayo. "He knows the Xs and Os. The last two days, he's always preached details, and details is what let us win the game. Without Coach, we wouldn't have won this game today. Coach did a good job."
Ayo had said that they were replacing Rusbatch because they needed more firepower from their import, and after Franklin's performance, it looks like they got their wish.
"We got it today," Ayo said. "Jamaal played well. Of course, he's still adjusting. Hopefully in our next practices he'll be able to adjust to our system. But he played a good game. He's making all those extra passes to the locals."
There were reports that the team was keeping Rusbatch on standby mode, and sure enough during the game Ayo confirmed he was seated near the team.
"Yes, he's still here. Actually he watched the game. He was behind us."
However, when pressed Ayo declared that they were sticking with Franklin.
"I think we'll go with Jamaal. We'll make sure he will fit with what we want to do. We want to sharpen our execution. We can do this during the eliminations but we have to work on our game plan. I've said it already, we're going to stick with Jamaal. (Rusbatch) is no longer on standby."
Aside from his scoring prowess, Franklin immediately showed that he won't hesitate to come to the defense of his new teammates. After Kevin Ferrer clocked Alec Stockton in the first quarter, Franklin was the first to get into Ferrer's face.
"I just wanted to make sure they didn't get into it," he explained. "I didn't want any harm. As you saw I was just trying to shake hands with 7 (Ferrer). Just getting used to the rules, knowing that I couldn't touch him. I didn't want any confrontation. Just trying to make sure they didn't get into a confrontation."
Converge's high-octane offense, which has produced 126.0 points per game so far, will be out to the test on Sunday when the FiberXers face the Magnolia Hotshots, the league's top defensive team in the Commissioner's Cup.
"A big problem for us because Magnolia has seen us play twice," Ayo admitted. "And we're blind, we don't know what Magnolia has been doing. We don't know their import, we don't know if they have any new plays. They have an advantage in terms of preparation.