Mixed predictions
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - February 28, 2020 - 12:00am

At the PBA pre-season media conference in the Conrad Hotel last Tuesday, the microphone went around the table as each team governor shared insights on what to expect in the Philippine Cup opening on March 8. There was no consensus on which team will likely ascend the throne. Could it be a reflection of looming parity in the league? 

NorthPort governor Erick Arejola said the league is now more balanced than ever but singled out San Miguel Beer and Barangay Ginebra as the teams that stand out from the rest. Staying healthy is a priority to be competitive and Arejola groaned that the Batang Pier is beset by injuries. “We’ve cancelled two practices because we only had seven players available,” he said. Arejola named rookie Sean Manganti, Christian Standhardinger, Bradwyn Guinto, Robert Bolick, Jonathan Grey and Sean Anthony as the players nursing injuries. Some will be able to play sooner than others. With a complete lineup, NorthPort should be a clear playoff contender especially as Standhardinger was named Best Player of the Conference in the last Governors Cup.

Aside from Manganti, Arejola said NorthPort has enlisted another rookie Renzo Subido from UST. Players who joined the Batang Pier in the offseason were L. A. Revilla and Kelly Nabong, two of 18 veterans who switched teams for this campaign.

Another team crippled by injuries is Phoenix. The Pulse Fuel Masters’ frontline has been decimated with Dave Marcelo undergoing surgery to remove bone spurs in his foot and newly-acquired Jake Pascual going down with an ACL injury. Doug Kramer and Willy Wilson have retired so Phoenix will rely on Jason Perkins, Justin Chua, new recruit Jay-R Reyes and Jorey Napoles for interior presence.

Phoenix governor Atty. Raymond Zorilla said the San Miguel teams are still up there as title favorites but promised the Fuel Masters will battle with passion and intensity. In the last Governors Cup, Phoenix posted a 3-8 record to finish out of the playoffs and the three wins were by a whisker, 103-101 over Ginebra, 86-84 over Rain or Shine and 120-117 over Blackwater in overtime. “We were competitive up to the third quarter in many of our games,” said Zorilla. “It’s too bad the rules can’t be changed to end the game in the third quarter.”

Rain or Shine governor Atty. Mamerto Mondragon said the Elasto Painters will brandish a lineup of four rookies, the most of any team – Adrian Wong, Prince Rivero, Vince Tolentino and Clint Doliguez. Coach Caloy Garcia has also brought back Ryan Arana to add toughness on defense. Among the returning veterans are Gabe Norwood, Rey Nambatac, James Yap, Javee Mocon, Beau Belga, Jewel Ponferada, Norbert Torres and Mark Borboran. He pointed to Magnolia and TNT as the title favorites in the Philippine Cup.

Magnolia governor Rene Pardo returned the favor and chose Rain or Shine, along with Ginebra, as his championship bets. Pardo said what’s still vivid in his mind is the memory of losing to San Miguel Beer in the last two Philippine Cup finals. If Magnolia and San Miguel make it back to the finals, the Hotshots’ consolation is JuneMar Fajardo won’t be playing. Magnolia coach Chito Victolero took in Jackson Corpuz from Columbian, free agent Jessie Saitanan and rookie Aris Dionisio to bolster his roster that includes Chris Banchero, Ian Sangalang, Paul Lee, Jio Jalalon, Mark Barroca, Rome dela Rosa and Marc Pingris.

San Miguel Beer governor Robert Non picked TNT as his No. 1 bet for the finals and admitted this conference will be extremely challenging for the Beermen without Fajardo in harness. “We’ve been lucky with coach Leo (Austria) but remember, JuneMar was with us when we won the last five Philippine Cups,” said Non. “One of our victories came when we were down 0-3 in the finals against Alaska. Mo (Tautuaa) has big shoes to fill but we’re confident he’ll step up. Actually, everybody has to step up.” Non said aside from TNT, teams to watch are Columbian, Magnolia, Rain or Shine and Ginebra. He noted that Columbian will combine C. J. Perez with rookie Roosevelt Adams in an explosive tandem.

The governors agreed the coming conference will be unpredictable, exciting and intriguing because of the player movements, the missing pillars (Fajardo, Greg Slaughter, Raymond Almazan) and the arrival of crack rookies. They also wished all the injured players well, especially Fajardo who was commended for his unconditional service to the country as a Gilas mainstay.

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