Terrence Romeo brought down the ball and surveyed the floor. His former college teammate RR Garcia was defending him. Mo Tautuaa offered to set a pick, but Romeo waved him off. He executed his patented move, dribbling the ball between both hands before dropping a deadly crossover that freed him up for an open jumper. The basket went in, of course, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
It was one of several crossover moves Romeo would attempt Wednesday night in the San Miguel Beermen's 106-101 loss to the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters in a PBA On Tour game, but when asked about it afterwards, he seemed genuinely surprised.
"I didn't notice," he said in Tagalog. "I really didn't."
His reply elicited laughter from the media, but it wasn't surprising. Romeo has always been one of the PBA's great innovators, pulling off moves on the fly without really thinking about it. But he's also been slowed by injuries the last two seasons, so when he got the call to start for the Beermen, no one knew what to expect.
Romeo last suited up in a PBA game on Dec. 21, shooting just 1-for-7 and finishing with only 3 points in 15 minutes of action as the Bay Area Dragons ousted the Beermen in the Commissioner's Cup semifinals. Romeo then missed all of the Governors' Cup as he continued to deal with a bothersome hamstring injury. He was understandably rusty and hesitant in the first quarter against the Fuel Masters.
"I told Coach (Jorge Gallent) I needed to take it slowly," Romeo said about his two-point first quarter, which ended with the Beermen down by 20. "I didn't want to put a lot of pressure on my body to put up big numbers right away after not playing for one and a half years. I tried to get movement back first, my feel for the court. When I didn't feel anything wrong, I went for it. Thank God my game is coming back."
Gallent liked what he saw from his All-Star guard.
"He was good. But start of the game, gigil pa. ... He wasn't with his rhythm yet but coming through the second half he got his rhythm. He played the Terrence basketball which we all know he does."
Romeo exploded for 14 points in the second quarter and finished with a team-high 27. He also played 38 minutes, the most run time he's had since March 18, 2022, when he had 31 minutes in a game against Meralco in the Season 46 Governors' Cup.
Of course, the heavy minutes against Phoenix were not surprising given that the Beermen were without guards CJ Perez, Chris Ross and Simon Enciso. While Romeo admits he still isn't 100% back, he was pleased that all his therapy and offseason work is paying off.
"I still need more playing time," he said. "The last time I played this long at this level was almost two years or one and a half years ago. I've just been trying to practice whatever I could practice while I was injured. I couldn't make my usual moves, so I just worked on other stuff while my injury was healing.
"This is a big help. My conditioning has always been there. It's just the game moves. My body just needs to be healthy again. During the time I was out I tried to stay disciplined with my workouts so that when my body heals, I'd be ready."
Gallent says he wants to take it slowly.
"That really depends on how his hamstring feels. I just don't want to force the issue with his injury. His minutes will be managed through him communicating with me. I just don't know the extent of his injury right now. But in this game, it looked good. I just hope it stays the same."
After falling behind by as many as 27, the Beermen eventually battled back and even took the lead in the fourth quarter only to let it slip away in the last minute. Still, Gallent was happy with his team's effort, considering they were also without Marcio Lassiter, Vic Manuel and June Mar Fajardo.
"I don't mind the loss. They fought, they did not give up. We just fell short in the end. A few minor mistakes at the end, but we will get better."