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Pacquiao wants Artest as KIA import

Ron Artest is shown during a visit to a Pacquiao press conference in Beverly Hills in 2009.

NANJING – Manny Pacquiao, the playing-coach of the Kia Sorentos, is jumping ahead of the PBA schedule.

The season-opening Philippine Cup won’t start until Oct. 19, and yet the Filipino boxing icon is already thinking of the import-spiced conferences up ahead.

As he killed time inside his suite on the 19th floor of the Sheraton Hotel in Shanghai the other day, Pacquiao talked about his coming PBA stint.

Pacquiao is so excited that he already has an import in mind, and at first he wouldn’t name the player.

“Basta,” he said.

Pressed, the eight-division boxing champion relented.

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“Si Ron Artest,” said Pacquiao, referring to the 14-year NBA veteran, a defensive-minded player who once figured in a nasty brawl while playing for the Indiana Pacers.

The 34-year-old Artest is now playing for the Sichuan Blue Whales in the Chinese Basketball Association.

Artest also played for Bulls, Kings, Rockets, Lakers and Knicks in an NBA career that began in 1999. He won a title with the Lakers in 2010.

Pacquiao said if Artest’s schedule permits, he would talk him into playing in the PBA. He sounded so confident of his plan.

“Okay yun. Kaibigan ko yun (He’s my friend),” said Pacquiao of the 6-foot-7 star, who showed up in a press conference in Beverly Hills to announce the Filipino’s fight against Miguel Cotto in 2009.

“Kailangan namin ng magaling na import (We need a good import),” he added.

Artest, who has changed his name to Metta World Peace, said he has a son with a Filipina.

“Nandito ngayon si Artest sa China. Dito siya naglalaro (He’s now here in China. He plays here),” said Pacquiao who didn’t reply when asked how much it would cost the team to hire Artest.

“Pag nakuha namin yun, maganda yun (If we get him that would be nice). NBA player yun. Kilala ko yun,” added Pacquiao, who was in Shanghai to promote his Nov. 23 fight with Chris Algieri.

Pacquiao, only the third Filipino playing-coach in the PBA after Robert Jaworski and Ramon Fernandez, can’t wait for Kia’s debut in the PBA.

And there’s word that Kia will have crowd-favorite Ginebra as its first opponent.

“Hindi pa sure. Pero Ginebra daw,” said Pacquiao, his eyes lighting up.

The Kia Sorentos are still in the process of building their team after drafting players like Reil Cervantes, Mike Burtscher, Hans Thiele, Alvin Padilla, Jai Reyes, Paul Sanga, Angelus Raymundo, Eder Saldua, LA Revilla, Joshua Webb and Chad Alonzo.

When the new PBA season unfolds, the heavy-handed boxer and second-term congressman in Sarangani will be in the middle of training for the Algieri fight.

But he said he will find time to be there.

“Sana nandun ako sa first game (I hope to be there for our first game),” said Pacquiao.

“Sana Ginebra,” he added.

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