When Tony Bishop's agent told him a certain PBA team was interested in signing him for the 2023 Commissioner's Cup, he was incredulous.
"When I got the phone call from my agent, I was like, 'Who's calling me right now?' I didn't know the situation, I didn't know what happened," Bishop said an hour after Barangay Ginebra San Miguel opened their campaign in the Commissioner's Cup with a 100-86 win over the Converge FiberXers.
"But once I learned everything, I was happy. I was like, 'Oh yeah. I want to play with those guys.'"
Barangay Ginebra is looking to Bishop to fill the shoes of longtime resident import Justin Brownlee, who is still in the sidelines waiting for a verdict on his doping case.
The Gin Kings and Bishop's former team, the Meralco Bolts, battled in the 2021 Governors' Cup Finals, which Ginebra won in six contentious games. Bishop left an impression on Ginebra coach Tim Cone, who didn't hesitate to sign him up once it became clear Brownlee would be unavailable.
"We didn't feel like Tony was that foreign to us when he came to the team," Cone said. "We felt we had a really good feel for the kind of game he plays and the personality he has. ... But from a distance in that championship series, we learned a lot about him."
But if the win over Converge is any indication, it appears the transition has been smooth as Bishop put up Brownlee-like numbers of 34 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 steals and 2 blocks in 43 minutes.
"We've been so used to Justin for so many years and his style of play," Cone said. "Tony's a different type of player. He's more of inside, mid-range. More of a power guy. His arms are so long, he can get in the passing lane. We just got to figure out how to best use his particular skills as opposed to what Justin did for us."
Ginebra center Christian Standhardinger also looked comfortable playing alongside his new teammate.
"It's an adjustment," said Standhardinger, who finished with 25 points. "He's a completely different player from Justin. But we've started really figuring it out. He's great at sealing, he's great in the post, and he has that great midrange shot that's almost automatic. So it's just a matter of time before we figure it out. Tony has a high basketball IQ, he's a hard worker, so it will be interesting to see where this goes this season."
Cone paid Bishop the ultimate compliment.
"He works really hard in practice every day. He wins all of our drills. Kind of reminds a little bit of Sean Chambers in practice. Sean would ever lose a drill either. He'd come to work every day in practice and it carries over to the game. Players see that in practice, that gives them confidence in the game. I think he has potential to be a really, really good fit for us."
Bishop was just glad to win his first game in a Ginebra uniform, even as he admitted there was pressure filling Brownlee's enormous shoes.
"It's a little bit weird, because when you battle against somebody in the finals, you really want to get that win. I battled against them. But now being on this side, I got respect for everybody on this team. Now that I'm here I get to see from the other side how great these guys are and how good they are on offense and defense."
Bishop will get the full Barangay Ginebra experience on Sunday when Manila Clasico happens. The team knows they're in for a grind against a Magnolia Hotshots squad that hasn't lost since March and is coming off a 38-point win over the previously unbeaten NorthPort Batang Pier.
"These guys are on a 14-game winning streak," Bishop said. "They have a great team over there. They have great size. They have a deep team. They push out on the break. They rebound, play defense. Very aggressive. I remember those guys playing against them in the semifinals when I was with Meralco. Great team."