AFTER getting reset for nearly three weeks due to the threat posed by the deadly novel coronavirus, the season-opening PBA D-League Aspirants’ Cup finally gets going.
Fancied Marinerong Pilipino launches its bid when it tackles rebuilding Karate Kid-Centro Escolar University today headlining the opening doubleheader at The Arena in San Juan.
Newcomer EcoOil-La Salle, now under returning coach Derrick Pumaren, clashes with defending NCAA champion Wangs-Letran in the match that kicks off the new season after the opening ceremonies.
As the only squad not parading a school-based core in the 12-team field, the Skippers are seen as the favorites and for good reason.
The Yong Garcia-mentored Marinerong Pilipino five will be led by high-flying forward Jamie Malonzo, who was selected as the No. 2 pick overall in the draft last Jan. 20.
The 6-foot-6 former Green Archer will be joined by his former La Salle teammate in 6-foot-9 Fil-Australian center James Laput, veterans Allan Mangahas and Alfred Batino, and brothers Juan and Javi Gomez de Liano of University of the Philippines as they try to lead the Skippers to their maiden title since joining the league in 2017.
Garcia downplayed Marinerong Pilipino’s potent line-up, saying: “Blessing in disguise sa amin iyong mga players, pero kailangan pa rin namin maglaro as a team.”
The Scorpions are equally-determined to make a splash in new tactician Jeff Napa’s baptism of fire in the D-League play.
Napa replaced Pumaren at the CEU helm last Jan. 14 and will hard-pressed to steer the Scorpions to new heights.
Napa tempers his expectations but hopes his wards give a good fight.
“Madami pa kaming kailangan ayusin, pero ang hinihingi ko lang sa players na lumaban sila,” offered Napa.
CEU, then carrying the colors of CafeFrance, won its only crown in the 2015 Foundation Cup under former strategist and now San Sebastian College mentor Egay Macaraya.
The Scorpions are expected to lean on the likes of holdovers Rich Guinitaran, Franz Diaz, and Dave Bernabe. They will be reinforced by former University of the East forward-center John Apacible and former Adamson University playmaker Jerie Pingoy.