MANILA, Philippines – Barangay Ginebra San Miguel has the much talked about ‘Twin Towers’ in Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar, who are the go-to options for intimidation.
But Ginebra also has smaller guys in the backcourt that pose just as much problems as their big men. In fact, they have one of the smallest players in the PBA that’s been doing damage in the Philippine Cup so far, proving that any height—tall or otherwise—is might.
Emman Monfort is 5'6", but he packs the energy of a 7-footer and more, with the added benefit of being speedy enough to sprint and beat the defense anywhere on the floor.
From injuries to Ginebra's ball of energy
Only in his second year in the PBA, Monfort was traded to Ginebra in October before the start of the 39th season in exchange for Rob Labagala. The latter landed in Barako Bull, the team that drafted Monfort 16th overall in the 2012 PBA Rookie Draft.
But even as he’s only a sophomore guard, Monfort has already had his fair share of struggles in his young career in the pros.
A myriad of injuries made it extremely difficult for the former Ateneo Blue Eagle to leave his stamp on the highly competitive league, causing him to sit out most of his rookie year. But whenever he did take to the court, he made sure everybody would turn their heads and pay attention to him.
On a good stretch in August during the season-ending Governors’ Cup, Monfort dropped two career games that led to wins for Barako Bull. He led the Energy Cola as if he was already a veteran point guard.
With his move to Ginebra and growing much healthier, Monfort’s young career is on a steady rise. He is building a solid foundation by learning from fellow Atenean LA Tenorio - one of the best point guards in the league today.
As a reliever for Ginebra’s primary playmaker, Monfort comes off the bench in various points of the 48-minute game. And perhaps as a result of his shaky freshman year, Monfort has learned to make the best of whatever time he’s given on the floor.
A major turning point that truly put him on everybody’s radar was his splendid show of energy in Ginebra’s thrilling game against Talk ‘N Text, where he called the shots for the unit that sparked a major comeback to win the game. The unit did not include Tenorio or Mark Caguioa.
For that game, Monfort ran all around the court, directing traffic, squeezing through bodies and screens, and even collaring two rebounds against taller opponents. He finished without a point to his name in 12 minutes of action but still handed out 5 assists to add to his two boards.
“Ginawa ko lang kung ano man kailangan gawin para manalo sa team. And that is ball pressure and play defense,” Monfort said of his performance in that game. (I just did whatever was needed for the team to win. And that was ball pressure and play defense.)
He added how those two rebounds, including a crucial board in one stretch, were just products of indomitable will.
“That was just all will. Hustle na lang talaga. For me, para yun sa teammates ko.” (That was just all will. It was all hustle. For me, I did it for my teammates.)
Because he is small and lightning-quick, Monfort is able to put himself in ideal positions on the floor to snatch the ball or even rebound. It has become the new normal for Monfort to show his craftiness on the floor—a style of play that’s not only quite pesky for foes, but also entertaining for fans.
“Yes, nakaka-boost talaga siya,” Monfort said of how the crowd affects his game. “Lalo na all throughout the game ang maririnig mo lang yung Ginebra, wala man lang ibang teams. So it pumps you up. You have the responsibility to give it your all.” (Yes, it really boosts you. Especially all throughout the game all you'll hear is the Ginebra crowd, no other teams.)
During Ginebra's face-off with Alaska, Monfort was once again a crowd favorite as he further solidified his role in the team as the ball of energy that turns it on whenever needed.
Upon entering the game against the Aces, Monfort easily changed the complexion of the match. There was a shift in the atmosphere brought about by his presence that radiated through his teammates.
Every loose ball he tracked down or dived for energized his team and momentum swung permanently to the side of Ginebra.
He played so well that game that he stayed in it for 24 minutes, his longest playing time this conference, and played the point as Tenorio became his backcourt partner.
"My role is really just to play defense and give energy to the team and that's what I did," he said.
He only made one lone point in that game. But he did all the dirty work by grabbing 5 rebounds, two on the offensive, dishing out 5 dimes and getting two steals.
Mentored by a fellow Eagle
Monfort is evolving and improving his game daily with the help of Tenorio, who he says has been his mentor since he joined the team.
He shares he has learned a lot from the Gilas Pilipinas mainstay even in just a short amount of time.
"Kumbaga si LA nasaing na na kanin, ako wala pa, wala pa talaga," Monfort described just how far he still needs to go. "Every day it's a blessing for me to guard him and play against him." (LA is cooked rice already, I'm nothing near that yet.)
For his part, Tenorio is just as fond of mentoring Monfort as his student is of learning from him.
"Natuwa nga ako nung lumipat siya samin sa Ginebra kasi I can see his potential as a player," Tenorio said of his teammate, adding that a key quality that can take Monfort very far in the league is his willingness to listen and take everything in. (I was happy when he moved to Ginebra because I can see his potential as a player.)
"Good thing about Emman is listener siya. Lahat ng sinasabi ko like during the game, ginagawa niya talaga," Tenorio explained. "And that's a sign of a good [player]." (Good thing about Emman is he's a listener. He does everything I say, like during the game.)
The 2012 Jones Cup MVP was even so bold to say that Monfort has nothing but a bright future ahead of him, regardless of his height. He, too, sees past the numbers on the stat sheet.
"I can see him with a bright future dito sa PBA kahit ganoon siya kaliit," he shared. "Nakita naman natin. He might not score a lot of points every game but he makes a difference in the game." (I can see him with a bright future here in the PBA even if he's that small. We all saw it.)
Monfort also shared some of the work he and Tenorio does after practice.
"Kami ni LA nage-extra shooting kami every day," he said. "So I'm always there kung magsasabi siya, 'Man extra shooting tayo.' I never said no. Kasi alam ko na that will make me better." (LA and I take extra shooting every day. So I'm always there when he says, 'Man let's take extra shooting.' I never said no. I know that it will make me better.)
Training with Monfort every day, Tenorio assesses the young guard's performance, saying that all Monfort needs to do is to stay consistent - something that Tenorio knows won't be a problem for Monfort. And the latter has definitely been showing that kind of consistency in Ginebra's past 4 games.
"There's no secret in basketball. All you need to do to improve is to work hard," Monfort shared how he has been approaching his new stint with Ginebra.
Tenorio vouches for Monfort as well, saying that he's very proud of him.
"He might be the smallest man on the court but malaki ang puso ng bata. Kahit sa practice he works really hard," Tenorio explained. (He might be the smallest man on the court but the kid's got a big heart. Even in practice he works really hard.)
He also commended Monfort for his confidence. Perhaps it's another reason that allows Monfort to operate so swiftly and efficiently on the floor without hesitation.
"Hindi siya insecure sa height niya. Kasi may iba na may insecurity sa height, pero siya hindi," Tenorio spoke proudly.
"Parang 7-footer siya, ganoon siyang pumorma. And it's a good sign. That's why he's in the PBA even though ganoon ang height niya." (He's not insecure with his height. Others have insecurities with height, but he does not. He acts like a 7-footer. And it's a good sign. That's why he's in the PBA even though he's not that tall.) - Rappler.com