Wide open race
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - October 11, 2020 - 12:00am

The PBA kicks off its season restart at the Angeles University Foundation gym in the Clark bubble today with no soothsayer daring to predict who’ll make it all the way to the top.  There are just too many variables to consider in making a calculated forecast.  Which teams will be quickest to adapt to the bubble conditions?  Which players are first able to rediscover their timing after a seven-month layoff?  How will staying away from families affect the players’ reliance on a support system?

Then, you factor in the missing elements.  Defending champion San Miguel Beer will be without six-time MVP JuneMar Fajardo, still rehabbing from a fractured tibia in the right leg and Matt Ganeulas-Rosser who opted out for personal reasons.  Losing Fajardo is a crippler and coach Leo Austria has to make do with a lineup featuring rookies Wendell Comboy and Dan del Guzman and veteran recruits Gelo Alolino, Bam Gamalinda and Russell Escoto.  Louie Vigil has rejoined the Beermen from the ABL.  Still, San Miguel will be a contender with Arwind Santos, Mo Tautuaa, Marcio Lassiter, Terrence Romeo, Chris Ross, Von Pessumal and Alex Cabagnot in the fold.  In the only game played this season last March, San Miguel crushed Magnolia, 94-78, without Fajardo and Rosser. The result will carry over in the standings.

Others who won’t play in the bubble are Larry Fonacier and Cyrus Baguio of NLEX (both opted out), Ginebra’s Greg Slaughter (no agreement on contract renewal), Magnolia’s Marc Pingris (calf strain), Blackwater’s Carl Bryan Cruz (torn meniscus), NorthPort’s Robert Bolick (ACL) and Phoenix’ Jake Pascual (ACL).  Also missing will be Alaska’s Sonny Thoss, TNT’s Kelly Williams, Meralco’s Ranidel de Ocampo and Magnolia’s P. J. Simon who’ve all retired.

There are 24 rookies and 22 transferring veterans in the rosters, giving every team a different look.  Two head coaches are making a fresh start with Nash Racela piloting Blackwater and Topex Robinson replacing Louie Alas at Phoenix on an interim basis.  After the teams submitted their 15-man playing rosters for the bubble last Sept. 25, they’re stuck to them.  The PBA won’t allow call-ups or trades.  If a team cuts a player, the spot will not be open for a replacement.  Anyone who leaves the bubble won’t be allowed to re-enter.  It’s a rule that will be strictly imposed to preserve the integrity of the bubble.

Ginebra, the last team to win a PBA title in the Governors Cup last season, is suiting up three rookies Kent Salado, Jerrick Balanza and Arvin Tolentino.  L. A. Tenorio and Japeth Aguilar checked in at the Quest Hotel late so getting them into game-shape may take a little while.  Chemistry could be a problem at the start for coach Tim Cone who won’t enjoy the luxury of a seven-foot center with Slaughter out.  Stanley Pringle, Scottie Thompson, Joe DeVance, Mark Caguioa, Art de la Cruz and Jared Dillinger are expected to carry the load until L. A. and Japeth are 100 percent.

TNT registered the highest win-loss clip last season at 64.8 percent on a 35-19 record, finishing sixth in the Philippine Cup, second in the Commissioner’s Cup and third in the Governors Cup.  TNT hasn’t won a title since the 2014-15 Commissioner’s Cup under coach Jong Uichico so it’s been a 13-conference drought.  But coach Mark Dickel’s squad, now called Tropang GIGA, looks like it’s ready to end the long wait.  Rookie Kib Montalbo, known for his hustle as the “Man of Steal,” brings energy on the floor and TNT’s other recruits are veterans Simon Enciso, Poy Erram, Jayjay Alejandro and Lervin Flores.  RayRay Parks played TNT’s last nine games in the Governors Cup and will now be in harness from the outset.  Jayson Castro, R. R. Pogoy and Troy Rosario are back to power GIGA.

NorthPort is a darkhorse even as coach Pido Jarencio enlisted only 13 players, including Jonathan Grey who sat out the team’s last 24 games after snapping a patellar tendon in his right knee at practice.  Christian Standhardinger will be dominant in the middle with the likes of Fajardo, Williams, Thoss and Pingris gone.  Recruit Kelly Nabong has developed a strong outside game to become a threat at stretch-four but it remains to be seen if Jarencio can keep him under control.  Another recruit L. A. Revilla provides stability to the backcourt but do-it-all Sean Anthony, tough Nico Elorde, sharpshooting Kevin Ferrer and rookies Sean Manganti and Renzo Subido must be consistent for the Batang Pier to go far.

Meralco returns a nearly intact lineup with rookie Aaron Black the only newcomer so coach Norman Black has the advantage of cohesion.  Raymond Almazan, Chris Newsome, Allein Maliksi, Baser Amer, Cliff Hodge, Rey Hugnatan and Bong Quinto remain the Bolts mainstays.  Alaska brought in Mike DiGregorio and rookies Barkely Ebona, Rey Publico and Jaycee Marcelino to join forces with Vic Manuel, Jeron Teng, Jvee Casio and the Aces gang. Blackwater is out to make waves with holdovers Mac Belo, Don Trollano, KG Canaleta, Roi Sumang and Paul Desiderio backed up by recruits Maurice Shaw, Richard Escoto, Frank Golla, Ron Dennison, Jon Gabriel and Ed Daquioag.  NLEX coach Yeng Guiao took in rookies Mike Ayonayon and Will McAloney and veteran Tony Semerad with Kiefer Ravena leading the charge.  Asi Taulava remains in the cast along with Raul Soyud, Kris Porter, Kenneth Ighalo and J. R. Quinahan.

Phoenix didn’t pick up a rookie and instead welcomed veterans Brian Heruela, Jay-R Reyes and Jansen Rios.  Robinson’s nucleus will include Matthew Wright, Jason Perkins, Justin Chua, J. C. Intal, R. J. Jazul, Alex Mallari and Jorey Napoles.  If Calvin Abueva is reactivated, he’ll be a huge boost.  Magnolia recruited rookie Aris Dionisio and veterans Jackson Corpuz and Jessie Saitanan.  Paul Lee, Ian Sangalang, Chris Banchero, Jio Jalalon, Rafi Reavis and Mark Barroca are coach Chito Victolero’s reliables.  Rain or Shine has lined up four rookies Prince Rivero, Vince Tolentino, Clint Doliguez and Adrian Wong to team with comebacking Ryan Arana, James Yap, Beau Belga, Gabe Norwood, Rey Nambatac, Norbert Torres, Jewel Ponferada and Mark Borboran.   Finally, TerraFirma parades the league’s top scorer C. J. Perez who’ll be supported by three rookies Roosevelt Adams, Bon Batiller and Chris Balagasay and veterans Aldrech Ramos, Rashawn McCarthy, Toto Calvo, Juami Tiongson and Andreas Cahilig.  Choosing a favorite is a hard call.  It’s what makes the PBA even more interesting in the restart.

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