Ginebra is every team’s target
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - January 24, 2020 - 12:00am

Right after capturing the PBA Governors’ Cup crown a week ago, Barangay Ginebra coach Tim Cone declared in public that his next goal is to win the coming Philippine Cup which opens the pro league’s 45th season on March 1. Cone hasn’t delivered an All-Filipino title to Ginebra since joining the franchise in 2015 and his last championship of this variety came in 2013-14 with San Mig Coffee. 

But his bold declaration of pursuing the elusive Philippine Cup for Ginebra just made the team the primary target for every contender in the conference. San Miguel Beer is the defending champion but all eyes will be on whether or not Cone can accomplish the mission he’s set out with Ginebra. In the last Philippine Cup, Ginebra went as far as the best-of-3 quarterfinals where Cone’s squad was eliminated by Magnolia in three encounters. Ginebra took Game 1, 86-75 then lost the next two, 106-77 and 85-72 to bow out with a whimper. But that was before Stanley Pringle and Jared Dillinger moved in.

Cone will try to fit in rookies Arvin Tolentino, Jerrick Balanza and Kent Salado but the veterans aren’t expected to give up their spots easily. Could Tolentino be the next Joe De Vance? Will Balanza, a brain surgery survivor, become the new Ginebra symbol of never-say-die? Is Salado a capable reliever for L. A. Tenorio? Fran Asuncion, a 5-9 guard like Salado, was another draft pick.

Meanwhile, the other PBA teams are gearing for war. There is a possibility that a remorseful Calvin Abueva may be cleared to return to action with Phoenix. If that happens, the Pulse Fuel Masters will get a serious boost. Coach Louie Alas has pulled in Jake Pascual, Brian Heruela and Sol Mercado to bolster the cast. In the recent draft, Phoenix didn’t get to choose until the third round with Ralph Tansingco of Lyceum then the Fuel Masters picked two more Lyceum standouts Spencer Pretta and Jeffrey Santos.

Rain or Shine has signed up rookies Adrian Wong, Clint Doliguez, Prince Rivero and Vince Tolentino as coach Caloy Garcia is looking to refresh his troops with young blood. Gabe Norwood, James Yap and Beau Belga return for veteran leadership. Blackwater would’ve liked to suit up Rey Suerte but he won’t be available until he’s released by Gilas. For now, new Elite coach Nash Racela will break in rookies Maurice Shaw, Richard Escoto, Hubert Cani and Chris Bitoon. He also took in his FEU defender Ron Dennison from Phoenix. K. G. Canaleta, Mike Tolomia and Don Trollano were enlisted in the last conference and Tony Semerad has yet to see action. Racela has the ability to mesh the newcomers with the returnees so it’ll be an interesting start for Blackwater.

“Suerte practiced twice after the draft but he’s focused now on his commitments in MPBL and Gilas,” said Racela. “Of course, the earlier we could use him, the better for Blackwater. We also let Richard and Chris miss some practices when they have games in MPBL.”

TNT toughened its guard corps with Simon Enciso, Ed Daquioag, Jay-Jay Alejandro, Kib Montalbo and Val Chauca so coach Mark Dickel is looking for back-up to support Jayson Castro. Dickel could also use some frontline depth. San Miguel brought in Russel Escoto but otherwise, coach Leo Austria’s nucleus is intact with June Mar Fajardo, Marcio Lassiter, Arwind Santos, Alex Cabagnot, Chris Ross, Mo Tautuaa and Terrence Romeo. The lineup remains formidable as the Beermen, who topped two of the three conferences last season, plan to get back on the championship track.

NorthPort has added key pieces to coach Pido Jarencio’s roster with Kelly Nabong, L. A. Revilla and Rey Guevarra and rookies Renzo Subido and Sean Manganti. While awaiting the return of Robert Bolick and Jonathan Grey, Jarencio has a solid rotation that could surprise. Christian Standhardinger, Sean Anthony and Nico Elorde are fighters who never give up and their work ethic rubs off on teammates. NLex’ draft picks were Mike Ayonayon, Will McAloney, A. C. Soberano, Gelo Vito, Jayvee Marcelino and Jeramer Cabanag. Coach Yeng Guiao hasn’t traded for veterans so it appears he’ll make room for some rookies.

Alaska welcomed Mike DiGregorio from TNT and signed rookie Jaycee Marcelino. The Aces’ two other draft picks were Barkley Ebona and Rey Publico. Alaska was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the last Governors’ Cup with Jeron Teng out of commission. Teng should be back in harness when the season opens and coach Jeff Cariaso is ready to battle with a refurbished cast that includes Robbie Herndon and Rodney Brondial who joined late in the last conference. Vic Manuel, fresh from an impressive stint in the Southeast Asian Games, will lead the Aces charge. Will he now be a fixture in the starting lineup or will he still come off the bench?

Meralco will reunite coach Norman Black with his son Aaron who was a revelation in the D-League and MPBL. The Bolts’ only other draft pick was Mike Canete. Raymond Almazan may not be able to play until late in the eliminations or as soon as he recovers from surgery to repair the lateral meniscal tear in his left knee. Magnolia acquired Jackson Corpuz from Columbian and will unleash Chris Banchero in his first full conference. The Hotshots’ draft picks were Aris Dionisio, Yankie Haruna and Alvin Capobres. Finally, Columbian picked up floor spacer Aldrech Ramos and will parade blue-chipper Roosevelt Adams. The Dyip’s other draft choices were Christian Balagasay, Bonbon Batiller and Marco Balagtas. C. J. Perez and Rashawn McCarthy will remain Columbian’s key cogs.

Across the PBA board, changes are evident. Teams are looking to fortify, rebuild and retool. It’ll be a tough grind in the Philippine Cup and for Ginebra, the target is right on its back.

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