New faces, shifts mark PBA opening
Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - December 16, 2017 - 4:00pm

MANILA, Philippines — Nothing is forever in the PBA as change is the only constant in Asia’s first play-for-pay league that opens its 43rd season at the Smart Araneta Coliseum today. That’s what makes the PBA such an exciting and unpredictable battleground. Rookies come in year after year to try to make an immediate impact – some turn out to be game-changers, others bomb out. Free agents find a home in new places and veterans are shuffled in trades to fit new jerseys. It’s the nature of the pro game.

This season, the PBA welcomes 22 rookies, 20 coming from the draft last October. The two exceptions are Letran’s Jam Cortez, undrafted in 2014, and EAC’s Jan Jamon, Kia’s fourth round pick in 2016. Cortez is in Phoenix’ roster while Jamon was signed by Kia after averaging 19.3 points for OSK Airlines in the Thai league. 

The other 20 freshmen are Alaska’s Jeron Teng and Davon Potts, Barangay Ginebra’s Jett Manuel, Blackwater’s Renz Palma, Reymar Jose and Kyle Neypes, GlobalPort’s Julian Sargent, Michael Juico, Lervyn Flores and Joseph Gabyani, Kia’s JonJon Gabriel and Dan Sara, NLEX’ Kiefer Ravena, Phoenix’ Jason Perkins, Magnolia’s Robbie Herndon, Rain Or Shine’s Rey Nambatac, San Miguel Beer’s Louie Vigil and TNT KaTropa’s Mark Tallo, Monbert Arong and Sydney Onwubere.

The only team without a rookie is Meralco but the Bolts bolstered their cast by bringing in veterans Nico Salva, Nino Canaleta and Jason Ballesteros. The three transferees are among 21 who’re wearing fresh jerseys this season. The other 18 are Ginebra’s Art de la Cruz from Blackwater, Alaska’s Ronald Pascual from Star, Blackwater’s Mike Cortez from GlobalPort and Chris Javier from Star, GlobalPort’s Nico Elorde from Kia and Kelly Nabong from Meralco, Kia’s Jay-R Reyes, Rashawn McCarthy and Ronald Tubid from San Miguel Beer and Dylan Ababou from Phoenix, NLEX’ Michael Miranda from Phoenix and Ronjay Buenafe from Blackwater, Phoenix’ LA Revilla and Rey Guevarra from Kia and Justin Chua from Meralco, San Miguel Beer’s Billy Mamaril from GlobalPort and Chico Lanete from Phoenix and TNT KaTropa’s Norbert Torres from Phoenix.

De la Cruz, Javier and Torres were traded in the last conference but have yet to play in their new jerseys. De la Cruz, however, won’t be available for Ginebra until late next year. He reinjured his Achilles tendon the other day. Orthopaedic surgeon Dr. George Canlas said he will perform surgery to repair the damage and estimates a recovery period of 10 months before being able to play competitively. Torres was traded to TNT by Phoenix during the last Governors Cup but sat out the conference to recover from injury. He recovered in time to play for Chooks To Go in the FIBA Asia Champions Cup in Chenzhou last September.

A player who missed last season but is back in harness is GlobalPort’s Yousef Taha. The 6-7 center took a leave from the PBA in November last year and went to Kuwait, where he was born, to attend to family matters. Now, the four-year veteran is back with a fresh two-year contract. Taha is a Filipino-Palestinian whose mother Bernie Lopez played on the UP women’s volleyball team that won the UAAP title in 1977.

Another comebacking player is Pascual, the PBA’s third overall draft pick in 2014 after Stanley Pringle and Kevin Alas. Pascual, 29, joined Calvin Abueva and Ian Sanagalang on the San Sebastian squad that won the NCAA seniors crown in 2009. He averaged 3.2 points in 23 games with San Miguel in 2014-15 and 1.6 points in eight games with Star in 2015-16 then left the league. Pascual has reemerged for a second try to rebuild his basketball career.

Nabong, 29, and Buenafe, 34, are also hoping to bounce back. Nabong was booted out of Meralco for insubordination and unsportsmanlike conduct during the last Governors Cup semifinals and skipped the finals. GlobalPort’s returning head coach Pido Jarencio is giving him a chance for redemption. Buenafe has moved from team to team but his former Rain Or Shine coach Yeng Guiao is offering a new lease with NLEX.

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