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Jorge Gallent replaces Leo Austria as SMB head coach

Jorge Gallent is replacing Leo Austria as SMB head coach, but Austria stays in the coaching staff as team consultant. Dennis Acosta (file photo)
By Ivan Saldajeno

MANILA—When the official rosters for the PBA Governors' Cup were revealed in a video by the league on Saturday, fans probably were surprised when the name Jorge Gallent was listed as San Miguel's coach.

Team manager Gee Abanilla, however, confirmed that it is not a typographical error.

Gallent has indeed replaced Leo Austria as the Beermen's coach for the season-ending conference, which will kick off on Sunday.

According to Abanilla, Austria wants to take a break from coaching.

“Coach Leo met with management a few days ago and informed us that he wishes to take a coaching sabbatical for personal reasons starting the Governors’ Cup,” Abanilla said in a statement.

Gallent, who played for five seasons as a pro with the second incarnation of the Tanduay franchise since its days in the defunct PBL as Stag and was among those directly hired when the team made a de facto return to the PBA in 1999, previously coached Magnolia, then known as Derby Ace, for the 2010-11 season, helping the team make the semifinals in two conferences.

A major coaching shuffle among the San Miguel Corporation teams after the season—that saw Tim Cone moving to the Purefoods franchise—found himself joining the SMB coaching staff, where he has been a part of for more than a decade.

Gallent was tapped as acting head coach for the Beermen in the latter part of the 2023 Commissioner's Cup eliminations when Austria was placed under the PBA's health and safety protocols, but they eventually won their last four games to seal a place in the quarterfinals and they decided to keep Gallent for a little longer.

SMB would then sweep Converge in the quarterfinals, earning them a place in the semifinals against guest team Bay Area.

However, after the Beermen lost Game 1 of the semifinals on a last-second game-winner by Kobey Lam—which snapped a six-game winning streak under Gallent—they eventually decided to reactivate Austria for Game 2.

SMB would take Game 3 with Austria coaching his second game back, but Bay Area still eliminated them in the best-of-five semis in Game 4.

However, the Beermen's gallant stand late into the previous conference prompted Austria to give Gallent the head coaching job.

"Coach Jorge will take over bringing with him PBA head coaching experience and an exciting future for the franchise," Abanilla further said.

Austria, however, will still have a role in the coaching staff as the team consultant.

SMB begins its campaign on Jan. 29 against Phoenix at the Ynares Center in Antipolo, which starts a grueling schedule where the team will play nine games in three full weeks before it shifts its attention to the EASL Champions Week from March 1-5 in Japan even as it will lend June Mar Fajardo and CJ Perez to Gilas Pilipinas for the sixth window of the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers on Feb. 24 and 27 at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue.

"To the SMB supporters, rest assured that we will continue to work together and strive for a successful campaign in the Governors' Cup onwards," Abanilla's statement concluded.

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno

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