Bigger, better PBA in offing
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson () - October 11, 2009 - 12:00am

It’s another season opening for the PBA and Asia’s first play-for-pay league is off to an auspicious start to mark the 35th anniversary of what has become a way of life for Filipino sports fans.

The league will inaugurate its new season today coming off an exciting finals in the previous Fiesta Conference where over 20,000 fans showed up to jam the Araneta Coliseum for Game 7 of the San Miguel Beer-Barangay Ginebra title series.

What makes the PBA such a crowd drawer is its dynamic nature. Change is a constant in the league and commissioner Sonny Barrios once more is guaranteeing a lot of surprises for fans this season.

For one, there are 19 rookies suiting up, 15 of whom were picked in the draft last August. The only three drafted players who failed to make the grade were first rounder James Sena (San Miguel Beer) and second rounders Edwin Asoro (Barako Bull) and P. J. Walsham (Coca-Cola). Sean Co, drafted in the second round by Alaska, is not listed in the Aces opening-day roster but is in the reserve lineup.

Of the 19 newcomers, only Rain Or Shine’s 30-year-old Nur Jam Alfad isn’t from the 2009 class. The former San Sebastian 6-1 1/2 guard was among 19 players snubbed in the 2004 draft where Rich Alvarez, James Yap and Marc Pingris were the top three choices. Alfad joins Alvin Pua as the only undrafted players that year to later make it to the PBA. By the way, PBA chief statistician Fidel Mangonon said Alfad is the league’s first 30-year-old rookie since John Ferriols and Leo Bat-og in 2003.

The three undrafted players from this year’s batch to locate a roster spot are 6-5 Bryan Faundo and 6-3 Bruce Viray, both of Barako Bull, and 5-10 1/2 Joshua Urbiztondo of Sta. Lucia Realty.

* * * *

Heading the rookies cast are first-rounders Japeth Aguilar (Burger King), Rico Maierhofer (Purefoods), Chris Ross (Coca-Cola), Jervy Cruz (Rain Or Shine), Mike Burtscher (Alaska), Ogie Menor (Barako), Chris Timberlake (Purefoods) and Ronnie Matias (Burger King).

Barako has the most rookies in its roster with Menor, Benedict Fernandez, Viray and Faundo. Teams with three rookies are Burger King (Aguilar, Orlando Daroya, Matias), Rain Or Shine (Alfad, Marcy Arellano, Cruz) and Sta. Lucia Realty (Urbiztondo, Charles Waters, Mark Benitez). Water is Sta. Lucia star Kelly Williams’ brother-in-law.

Only San Miguel and Talk ‘N’ Text – the teams that won the two PBA titles last season – are showing up without rookies.

Another dramatic change is the transfer of 31 veterans to new teams. Leading the movement are Dennis Espino (from Sta. Lucia to Coca-Cola), Rico Villaneuva (from Purefoods to Ginebra), Arwind Santos (from Burger King to San Miguel), Nic Belasco (from Coca-Cola to Talk ‘N’ Text), Gabby Espinas (from Barako to Sta. Lucia) and Pingris (from San Miguel to Purefoods).

Others who switched uniforms include Paul Artadi (Purefoods), Ken Bono (Coca-Cola), Rafi Reavis (Purefoods), Yousif Aljamal (Barako), Rich Alvarez (Ginebra), Chico Lanete (Burger King), Norman Gonzales (Coca-Cola), Jeff Chan (Rain Or Shine), Denok Miranda (San Miguel) and Mark Isip (Talk ‘N’ Text).

In the transition, several veterans were left by the wayside. Gone from the PBA are the likes of Rob Wainwright, Rodney Santos, John Arigo, Warren Ybanez, Ronjay Enrile, Leo Avenido, Kalani Ferreira, Topex Robinson (reportedly playing in Masbate), Allan Salangsang and Christian Coronel.

At San Miguel, missing in the first-day roster are Wesley Gonzales (reserve list) and Jay Washington, still in the US recovering from tendonitis. Chris Calaguio remains under contract with San Miguel but is now a free agent.

Barako and Coca-Cola are the teams with the most veteran recruits. The Bulls picked up Aris Dimaunahan, Chad Alonzo, Gilbert Lao, Aljamal and Donbel Belano while the Tigers signed up Bono, Marvin Cruz, Espino, Larry Rodriguez and Gonzales.

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Aside from the rookies and veteran transfers, the league is introducing new rules this season, the most significant of which is extending the three-point distance from 20.6 feet back to the original 22 feet. The shaded lane will revert to the NBA-style rectangle from the trapezoid and referees will be more tolerant of players moving in setting a pick.

The adjustment in calling an illegal pick is now, a player may move his body into a new but equal position sideways provided his shoulders are directly squared with his foot. However, the screener may not lean forward or extend one or more parts of his body, like an arm, leg or hips, unnaturally in attempting to impede the movement of a defender.

A huge innovation is the entry of guest team Smart-Gilas. While the national team will not figure in the race for the championship, its 10 games during the eliminations will count for or against the PBA teams. Coach Rajko Toroman’s squad will make its PBA debut against Burger King – piloted by Yeng Guiao – at the Araneta Coliseum on Friday. It will be the first game of a triplebill and fans are expected to come out in droves to witness Aguilar’s transformation from a Smart-Gilas anchor to a Burger King rookie.

Because of Smart-Gilas’ participation, the PBA has scheduled six triplebills in the first round of eliminations - Oct. 16, 21, Nov. 6, 13, 20 and 27. Out-of-town games are marked in Panabo, Gingoog, Victorias, Tubod, Cebu City and Surigao del Norte during the first round.

As in the previous season, only the last place team will be struck out of contention at the end of the double-round eliminations. The squads that finish sixth to ninth will slug it out in the knockout wildcard phase with the lone survivor advancing to the quarterfinals featuring two best-of-five ties. The semifinals and finals will be best-of-seven affairs.

The PBA promises a wild and thrilling ride in the All-Filipino Cup.

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