Team profile

Joey Villar, Nelson Beltran - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - After bolstering weak spots in their roster and training behind closed doors, the Alaska Milk Aces are now eager to surprise everyone.

Narrowly missing the Governors Cup finals, the Aces hope to move up from there and contend for the crown in their second conference under coach Alex Compton.

“The season break helped us make the necessary adjustments in the new system put in place by Alex (Compton),” said team manager Dickie Bachmann, pointing out that they have abandoned the “triangle offense” of former coach Tim Cone.

They purposely played few pre-season matches in an effort to hide their new plays and patterns. And in those few games, they came through with a winning record.

Bachmann said their new system is more of a run-and-gun game where guys like Cyrus Baguio, Calvin Abueva and even rookie Rome dela Rosa are likely to thrive.

The Alaska official is very much impressed with Dela Rosa, son of former Shell and Sta. Lucia player Romy.

Bachmann is also surprised by free agent acquisition Eric Menk. “At 40, he’s keeping up with the young guys. He can run up and down,” said Bachmann of Menk whom they signed up to fill in for the injury-hit Gabby Espinas.

Compton kept the old Alaska nucleus of Baguio, Abueva, Sonny Thoss, Jvee Casio, Dondon Hontiveros, Vic Manuel, RJ Jazul and Tony dela Cruz and added an important piece on the puzzle in rookie guard Chris Banchero.

Other holdovers are Sam Eman, Chris Exciminiano and Paolo Bugia.

Alaska is considered a good dark horse that is likely to improve from its showing in Season 39 where it collected 22 wins and 22 losses to finish sixth in the cumulative ranking behind Talk n Text (33-16), Rain or Shine (37-24), San Miguel Beer (25-17), San Mig Coffee (41-30) and Barangay Ginebra (23-20).

Since their return from a leave of absence, the Barako Bull Energy have remained a work in progress.

In the offseason, Barako Bull yet again effected major changes in its lineup in a continuing effort to find the right mix that could spark a breakthrough for the franchise.

Coach Siot Tanquingcen tweaked its team in enlisting RR Garcia, Jondan Salvador, Chico Lanete, Jake Pascual and Philip Paredes.

Core players retained are Denok Miranda, Carlo Lastimosa, JC Intal, Jeric Fortuna, Dave Marcelo, Willie Wilson and Michael Pennisi. Curiously left unsigned thus becoming an unrestricted free agent is two-time MVP awardee Willie Miller.

Manny Alvarez, the team’s representative to the PBA board, is confident they will make progress from last season where they struggled for only 10 wins against 25 losses.

He said their goal in each of the three conferences this season is to make the playoffs and take it from there.

“Definitely, we have to work on a lot of things,” said Tanquingcen, a champion coach with San Miguel Beer and Barangay Ginebra now on his second conference as the Barako Bull bench chieftain assisted by Coy Banal, Jigs Mendoza, Art dela Cruz and Paolo Rivero.

Last season, the team played under coaches Junel Baculi, Rajko Toroman, Bong Ramos and Tanquingcen, but hardly made an impact, just winding up ahead of Globalport in the overall cumulative ranking.

Gaining the third pick in the rookie draft, the Energy used the draft rights on Pascual and thus improved a bit their frontline.

Many believe the Barangay Ginebra Kings have a good prospect of reigning this season.

For one, they should have adapted to the triangle offense and, with added weaponry from Joseph Yeo and rookie Rodney Brondial, are considered among the top favorites to vie for the crown.

“We started with the little things and I think we’re starting to understand the little things,” said coach Jeff Cariaso. “Now, we’re building and getting better. As long as we continue to work hard, the wins are going to follow.”

There’s no question with regards to the team’s roster power with key personnel in Greg Slaughter, Japeth Aguilar, LA Tenorio, Mark Caguioa, Mac Baracael, Jayjay Helterbrand, Jayr Reyes, Chris Ellis and Yeo.

Reserves James Forrester, Billy Mamaril, Josh Urbiztondo and Dylan Ababou could play major roles with another team.

Still being worked on is the team chemistry and how to get along with the offense Cariaso brought along in his transfer from San Mig Coffee.

 “We’ve introduced 75 percent already. You want to master and get better at it as you go on,” Cariaso said.

As for defense, the Kings could well match up with any team especially as they could play big or small but quick.

Slaughter, the 2014 Rookie of the Year awardee, could be a more dominant inside presence for the team. They will be a big problem for any team if Slaughter and Aguilar hit it well together.

Mark Caguioa will still be the leader, though, with his burning desire to end their long seven-year title drought. 

Obviously getting impatient over its slow progress, Meralco came down to make changes atop the organization, without draft rights and trade materials to tinker with its lineup during the offseason in the first place.

Kicked upstairs was coach Ryan Gregorio, who was replaced by Norman Black.

Team manager Butch Antonio was also moved somewhere else to make way for Paolo Trillo.

Coming over from Talk n Text, Black and Trillo will plot ways to pull the Bolts out of the cellar.

And it’s not easy.

The Meralco team that won only 14 of 36 games last season hardly improved. One significant change was the entry of Sean Anthony.

Black himself was not impressed with their winning record in the preseason.

“Those were exhibition games, merely tune-ups. We’re just trying to get better every game,” he said.

Black’s biggest concern should be how to match up with Junmar Fajardo, Greg Slaughter, Sonny Thoss and Asi Taulava.

Meralco has a small frontline rotation with a starting center in 6-foot-4 Reynel Hugnatan.

Gunners Gary David, John Wilson, Mark Macapagal, Rey Guevarra, Jared Dillinger and Mike Cortez have to deliver consistently to make up for the team’s shortage at the post.

One big energy source for Meralco is scrappy forward Cliff Hodge and flashes of old brilliance may come from Danny Ildefonso.

Also in the lineup are Simon Atkins, Philip Morrison, Ryan Buenafe, James Sena and AJ Caram.

Spending a little more than Kia and Blackwater in their entry into the big league, NLEX should come out stronger and perform better in their maiden PBA season.

For one, the Road Warriors are not starting from scratch with players like Asi Taulava, Mark Cardona and Jonas Villanueva whom they absorbed in their purchase of the Air21 team.

Of course, the idea of management is to be competitive right away.

Aldrech Ramos, Wynne Arboleda, Eliud Poligrates, Eric James Camson and Mark Borboran are the other former Air21 Express turning Road Warriors, teaming up with rookies Juneric Baloria, Harold Arboleda, John Byron Villarias and Jeckster Apinan, Raul Soyud, and trade acquisitions Rico Villanueva and KG Canaleta.

“We’re happy with what we’ve got. We’re happy with our mix of young and experienced talents whom we believe have developed a good chemistry already,” said coach Boyet Fernandez.

“When we acquired the Air21 franchise, I think nine had existing contracts. With that, we strategized and plotted down how to strengthen each spot,” said team manager Ronald Dulatre.

“We feel that our acquisitions are players that really can blend in. We wanted those players,” Dulatre added.

With these around him, Taulava believes he can have a shot at a championship before hanging his jersey.

“I have big expectations for this team,” said Taulava, considering their breakthrough with Air21 last season and the resources put in by MVP Group top boss Manny V. Pangilinan.

Believing they’ve got a middle-of-the pack team in terms of roster power, the team management set a modest goal, but Taulava won’t agree, insisting his own belief that they can make a good run.

“I think our bosses are playing down the pressure for us by saying (we’re just good at) fifth place. But with how well we’ve (Express franchise) done last season, I don’t think I can accept fifth place,” he said.

“What’s the use of putting in so many long hours in the offseason if you just go out there and get fifth place?” he added.

Taulava pointed out the group of Cardona, Villanueva, Arboleda, Ramos, Canaleta and a healthy Enrico Villanueva assures the Road Warriors of a solid veteran core, capable of challenging any other teams.

Forget the name change. This team is the same winning mix that has strung up four straight crowns and is looking well capable of extending its mighty reign.

Coach Tim Cone, the team management and the entire ball club are not about to sit on their laurels as they have even sought some help from an NBA coach to take a look at their game.

“Coach Tom Newell came over to help us out. He didn’t change our triangle or the things that we do. He cleaned us up,” said Cone.

They don’t want to burden themselves with pressure, though, that they set a new mindset as a “growth-oriented team and not goal-oriented.”

They want each member of the team to improve, hoping the wins to come along.

“We’ll not think about chasing the record (Crispa’s six straight championships). That will not be in our mind,” said Cone.

“What we promise is that we’ll tap the talent of each player and make them play to the best of their abilities,” said Rene Pardo, Purefoods’ representative to the PBA board.

Purefoods kept intact the San Mig Coffee roster that won the last Governors Cup, stretching its reign to four conferences and completing only the fifth grand slam ever achieved in the league.

However, the Hotshots will be playing sans Marc Pingris until Oct. 31 when they tangle with the Globalport Batang Pier at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Pingris gets more rest after sacrificing his off-season to serve duty to the national team in the FIBA World Cup and in the Asian Games.

James Yap will still be the team’s top gun, and the team could become more formidable with guys like Mark Barroca, Ian Sangalang, Alex Mallari, Justin Melton and Allein Maliksi now more experienced and wiser.

Rested and fresh are other veteran stalwarts PJ Simon, Joe Devance and Rafi Reavis.

During the league’s season media launch, league officials still point to the Purefoods Star Hotshots as the team to beat in this campaign.

As an expansion team, Blackwater formed a team just from the expansion draft and the rookie draft, and would definitely need some time to be a championship contender.

But even with a roster of neophytes and discards, the team management and coaching staff are hopeful they can bring added thrill and excitement in the league.

And Ever Bilena chief Dioceldo Sy and head coach Leo Isaac stressed their maiden season in the PBA won’t just be about a battle with fellow newcomer Kia.

 “It’s not just about going for a win against Kia. We hope we can make the Top Eight,” said Sy.

 “We are a team of players out to prove they belong and players out to reinvent themselves. We’ll give them (the other PBA teams) a run for their money,” said Isaac.

 To be assisted by Rodil Sablan, Patrick Aquino and Aris Dimaunahan, Isaac will have at his disposal a team led by dispersal draft recruits Alex Nuyles, JR Cawaling and Paul Artadi, and trade acquisitions Sunday Salvacion and Jason Ballesteros.

 A champion team in the defunct PBL and in the PBA D-League, Blackwater will also have Bacon Austria, Juami Tiongson, Eddie Laure, Bryan Faundo, JP Erram, Gilbert Bulawan, Bambam Gamalinda, Chris Timberlake and Ogie Menor. In the reserve list is Brian Heruela.

 “I have players who can hustle. They want to be recognized as Blackwater players and make their former mother teams regret putting them in the dispersal draft,” Isaac said.

 The management has high hopes on the coaching staff.

 “Coach Leo and Aris (Dimaunahan) are former Ginebra players. We want their Ginebra spirit, their fighting attitude to rub on our players,” said Sy.

 Blackwater had actually also gained the signing rights on two-time MVP awardee Danny Ildefonso. The two parties, however, failed to strike a deal with Blackwater later giving Ildefonso his release papers that allowed him to rejoin Meralco.

Globalport owner Mikee Romero is confident they have learned their lessons, have put the right pieces together and are ready to compete this year.

Without a single winning record in their first six conferences in the league, Romero believes they can turn things around after a facelift that includes their acquisition of prized Fil-Am player Stanley Pringle.

Also with the arrival of Noy Baclao, Jojo Duncil and another rookie Roider Cabrera, Romero and his coaches led by Pido Jarencio feel they have assembled a team with potentials to reach the Final Four.

“This is a Globalport team that really can compete now,” said Romero.

“All 14 players were handpicked by us kaya masasabi namin lahat ng players palaban,” said Globalport alternate governor Erick Arejola.

The Batang Pier racked up a high winning mark in the offseason even in their Seoul tour, raising the team’s hopes for an exciting season.

Pringle, from Penn State who has played as import in Europe and in Asia, has been a big boost, lifting the spirit of the team.

Making the team a potent force is Pringle playing well with Alex Cabagnot and Terrence Romeo.

Add anybody among frontliners Yancy de Ocampo, Kelly Nabong, Mark Isip and Baclao, and Jarencio has got a solid starting five.

Also in the lineup are Ronjay Buenafe, Jewel Ponferada and Keith Jensen.

The rigors of time have taken their toll on this former Philippine Cup three-peat champ, and Talk n Text had to make the sad decision of starting to effect a changing of the guard.

The team infused young blood in former Gilas cadet players Kevin Alas and Matt Ganuelas while also bringing back old tested player Jay Washington.

Another big change is the appointment of coach Jong Uichico, who took over from Norman Black.

Holdovers are Jayson Castro, Ranidel de Ocampo, Larry Fonacier, Kelly Williams, Harvey Carey, Ryan Reyes, Rob Reyes, Elmer Espiritu, Aaron Aban and Danny Seigle.

Allowed to rest for a while after his stint with Gilas Pilipinas is ace guard Jimmy Alapag.

The Tropang Texters have got a bit younger, and they’re raring to bounce back after some beatings from San Mig Coffee last year.

Their streak of three straight Philippine Cup title runs came to an end as they dropped their quarterfinal showdown with the Mixers.

Curiously, they also lost to the Mixers in the Commissioner’s Cup Finals then in the Governors Cup semifinals.

To help out Uichico get Talk n Text back on track are consultant Tab Baldwin and assistant coaches Nash Racela, Bong Ravena and Josh Reyes.

It’s hard to overlook Rain or Shine with its two finals appearances and a semis finish last season.

And it’s not surprising that just everyone considers the Asian Coating Inc. ball club as among those to watch in the 2014-15 wars.

For Rain or Shine, the most important development in the season break was resolving the “Paul Lee controversy.”

Lee, one of Rain or Shine’s contributions to the national team, asked to be traded but reconsidered his plan and stayed on as an Elasto Painter.

With that, Rain or Shine gave away No. 2 draft pick Kevin Alas in exchange for something to build on in the future.

And except for Larry Rodriguez, all others also stayed on as Elasto Painters, keeping the team that fought San Mig Coffee in the Philippine Cup and the Governors Cup finales last season.

“We’re looking forward to a very competitive season,” said Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao.

Rain or Shine is back with a complete lineup with the return of burly Cebuano player JR Quinahan.

The only new face in the RoS team is guard Jericho Cruz.

Since ruling the 2011-12 Governors Cup, the Elasto Painters have never finished lower than fifth place in a testament to their competitiveness and consistency.

Junmar Fajardo will surely be a better player in his return from the FIBA World Cup and the Asian Games, and that’s one big factor that could help give San Miguel Beer a ride back to the top.

Unable to live up to their potential for a long while now, the Beermen try to fix things upunder new coach Leo Austria.

It can’t be denied that something’s wrong with this team as it can’t produce a championship with all the talents that they’ve got.

Imagine a rotation made of Fajardo, Arwind Santos, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Lutz, Sol Mercado, Rico Maierhofer, Chris Ross, Doug Kramer and Ronald Tubid.

Recent additions are rookie Ronald Pascual and free agent Bitoy Omolon.

Despite its highly formidable lineup, San Miguel has gone without a title in the last three years under coaches Olsen Racela, Rajko Toroman, Gie Abanilla and the pair of Biboy Ravanes and Todd Purves.

“We’re starting out playing a different system and we’re working on the chemistry not only of the players but the whole team from the coaching staff, to the players all the way down to the ball boys,” said Austria.

“Malakas nga ang team mo, nagkakapaan naman. I want our team on the same page together,” Austria pointed out. “The good thing is that the players have accepted and believe what I’m trying to instill on the team.”

Under Austria, a champion coach in the Asean Basketball League, the plan is to play a methodical, half-court set to maximize the strength and match-up advantage of players like Fajardo, Santos, Lassiter, Lutz and Tubid.

“We’ll really exploit the advantage of Junmar at the post and use the shooting skills of Marcio, Lutz and Tubid,” said Austria. “It’s not easy but we’re determined to work on that.”


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