Changing of the guard

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - October 13, 2015 - 10:00am

The big news in the camp of the MVP teams in the PBA is Jimmy Alapag’s resurrection from a brief retirement to join coach Norman Black’s Meralco squad. Alapag, 37, was invited to push his career to two more years with the Bolts who could use his backcourt leadership in providing stability on the floor. Additionally, Alapag would be a positive influence in bringing along rookie point guard Baser Amer who is expected to be his heir apparent.

Amer, 23, is finishing up his San Beda varsity commitments in the NCAA before moving to the pros. He was one of two Meralco first round picks in the recent draft. The other was Ateneo’s all-purpose forward Chris Newsome. Both Amer and Newsome are tipped to make a major impact in their pro debuts. Another Meralco draft choice Joseph Sedurifa of the University of Southern Philippines was signed up as a practice player.

Aside from Alapag, another comebacking player whom Black is welcoming at Meralco is prodigal son Rabel Al Hussaini. The former Ateneo center skipped last season to attend to an inheritance issue in his father’s homeland in Kuwait. Now, the 27-year-old Al Hussaini is back to pick up from where he left off.  Al Hussaini, once an MVP in the UAAP, has awesome unrealized potential and was the PBA’s second overall selection in the 2010 draft. Reunited with Black, who was his Ateneo coach, Al Hussaini is motivated to relive his UAAP glory days. He’s in shape to make a difference in the frontline particularly as another former Blue Eagle Justin Chua is out with an ACL injury.

Chua is one of several veteran recruits whom Black enlisted in the offseason. The others are big man Bryan Faundo from Blackwater to shore up the frontline and Ronjay Buenafe from Globalport to improve Meralco’s perimeter offense. Gone from last season’s roster are Mark Macapagal, Jai Reyes (to Talk ‘N’ Text), Sean Anthony (to NLEX), Danny Ildefonso and Mike Cortez and James Sena (both to Blackwater).

The Bolts posted a 21-21 record last season and advanced to the semifinals of the Commissioner’s Cup. Alapag’s return is fueling a lot of excitement in the Meralco camp. Black couldn’t be happier.

Talk ‘N’ Text’s rookies are Moe Tautuaa, Troy Rosario and Oping Sumalinog. Veteran recruits are the returning Larry Rodriguez and Jai Reyes, Denok Miranda and Dylan Ababou. Gone are Jay Washington (to Globalport), Rob Reyes and Kevin Alas (both to NLEX) and Willie Miller. Coach Joseph Uichico’s holdovers are Harvey Carey, Rob Labagala, Larry Fonacier, Kelly Williams, Matt Ganuelas, Elmer Espiritu, Danny Seigle, Jayson Castro, Ranidel de Ocampo, Aaron Aban and Ryan Reyes.

The Texters spoiled San Miguel’s Grand Slam hopes last season by claiming the Commissioner’s Cup trophy. Uichico piloted Talk ‘N’ Text to an overall mark of 31-20. Last year, the record was 33-16. The Texters finished fourth in the Philippine Cup, first in the Commissioner’s Cup and 10th in the Governors Cup.

Tautuaa, 26, and Rosario, 23, were picked 1-2 in the recent draft. They were both picked as reserves to reinforce the Gilas squad preparing for the FIBA Asia Championships in Changsha and got valuable experience training with the national team. The rookies even saw action with Gilas in the pocket tournament in Estonia. More than the exposure, they were brought under the wings of Uichico, Tab Baldwin and Josh Reyes who are all in Talk ‘N’ Text’s coaching staff. Baldwin was the Gilas head coach with Uichico and Reyes two of his assistants in Changsha. With the Texters, Uichico calls the shots with Baldwin a consultant and Reyes an assistant.

The surprise pick-up was Sumalinog who was chosen by Talk ‘N’ Text on the fourth round in the 2013 draft but never made it until finally cracking the lineup for this season. Sumalinog, 26, is a 6-2 guard-forward who played on four Ateneo championship squads. He was recruited from Don Bosco Technology Center in Cebu, went to Reedley then enrolled at Ateneo. Highlights of Sumalinog’s pro career include playing as an import with the Saigon Heat in the 2012-13 ABL season and suiting up for the NLEX title squad in the PBA D-League in 2013. With the Heat, Sumalinog averaged 6.5 points and 2.6 rebounds in 13 games. He scored 16 points twice against Thailand and Petron in the ABL.

Finally, NLEX coach Boyet Fernandez said things are looking bright for the Road Warriors with rookies Glenn Khobuntin, Garvo Lanete and Simon Enciso and veteran recruits Rob Reyes, Anthony and Alas.

Struck out from last season’s cast were KG Canaleta and Aldrech Ramos (both to Mahindra), Rudy Lingganay and Juneric Baloria (under negotiation to join Mahindra). Pamboy Raymundo and John Wilson are in the reserve list. Back for another tour of duty are Mark Cardona, Jonas Villanueva, Rico Villanueva, Mark Borboran, Jeckster Apinan, Harold Arboleda, Wynne Arboleda, Eric Camson and Asi Taulava.

“I’m excited for this season,” said Fernandez. “But Garvo and maybe, Kevin will not recover in time for our first few games because of their injuries. Kevin (ankle) and Garvo (knee) are hoping they’ll be given clearance to play this November.” NLEX registered a 13-23 mark last season, winding up 10th in the Philippine Cup, 5th in the Commissioner’s Cup and 11th in the Governors Cup.

And that completes our review of the PBA’s 12 teams. With at least 40 veterans changing uniforms in a frenetic offseason and close to 30 rookies in rosters, the competition in the PBA is wide open. Chemistry will be a critical issue as teams try to find the right mix to get going early with so many lineup switches. Blackwater and Alaska, for instance, are bringing in four rookies each. Barako Bull and Mahindra enlisted seven veteran recruits apiece.

Among the major veteran switches are Canaleta and Ramos from NLEX to Mahindra, Cortez and Sena from Meralco to Blackwater, Carlo Lastimosa from Barako Bull to Blackwater, Denok Miranda from Globalport to Talk ‘N’ Text, Ababou from Barako Bull to Talk ‘N’ Text, Alapag from Talk ‘N’ Text to Meralco, Ryan Arana from Rain Or Shine to San Miguel Beer, Brian Heruela from Blackwater to San Miguel Beer, Washington from Talk ‘N’ Text to Globalport, Joseph Yeo from Barako Bull to Globalport, Jonathan Uyloan and Jervy Cruz from Rain Or Shine to Globalport, Ronald Pascual from San Miguel Beer to the Star, Jake Pascual from Barako Bull to the Star, Josh Urbiztondo, Mac Baracael and Emman Monfort from Barangay Ginebra to Barako Bull, Anthony from Meralco to NLEX, Alas from Talk ‘N’ Text to NLEX and Joe De Vance from the Star to Barangay Ginebra.

It’ll be an unpredictable ride in the PBA this season.

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