Ivan Johnson of reigning champion Talk ‘N Text and Wayne Chism of Rain or Shine lead the cast of six returning imports as the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Season 41 Commissioner’s Cup unfolds on Wednesday.
The former Atlanta Hawks 6’9 power forward Johnson, led Talk ‘N Text to Commissioner’s Cup victory last year with an average of 26 points and 12 rebounds during the elimination round.
Johnson is suspended for one game for hitting Blackwater players JP Erram and Frank Golla in a tune-up game on Saturday. He was also slapped with a P50,000 fine for that incident. Talk ‘N Text will be playing without an import on Wednesday against Blackwater at the Araneta Coliseum.
“He [Johnson] is always in competitive spirit. But he is out for our first game” Talk ‘N Text coach Jong Uichico told The Manila Times in a phone interview. “We are not thinking so far of our chances how to defend our title. We are thinking how to get better each game.”
Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao said that 2015 Best Import Chism has already adjusted to his system and is keen on leading his team anew this coming conference.
“He is already familiarized with our system and he’s been here since the Philippine Cup semifinals. He [Chism] was the best import awardee last year and we’re expecting him to guide us this conference,” Guiao told The Manila Times in a phone interview on Monday.
Chism averaged 25.8 points, 15.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game last Commissioner’s Cup.
“We are ready this coming conference. The only problem is we’ll be playing without Paul Lee who is dealing with a knee injury and Jeff Chan who is dealing with minor left elbow injury,” added Guiao. “They will return in the first week of March.”
The other returning imports are 2011 Best Import Denzel Bowles for the Star Hotshots, 6’7 Robert Dozier for the Alaska Aces, Al Thornton for the Northern Luzon Expressway Road Warriors, and Othyus Jeffers for the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings.
Back-to-back Philippine Cup champion San Miguel Beer, according to coach Leo Austria, will parade the 6’8 forward Tyler Wilkerson. He is expected to be at the frontline of the Beermen together with 6’10 two-time Most Valuable Player winner June Mar Fajardo and Arwind Santos.
“Our Philippine Cup come-from-behind win over Alaska is just a thing of the past,” said Austria. “We have to get back in training for the upcoming conference. So far, we have not seen yet Wilkerson playing. We’ll just return to training this week.”
GlobalPort, under coach Pido Jarencio also has a new import. The Batang Pier signed up ASEAN Basketball League 6’9 veteran Brian Williams.
“He just arrived a few days ago and we’re just starting to test him. He was one of our choices, so I guess he’ll be making a good impression,” said Jarencio. “We really needed a tall import because our local players are small.”
“I’m expecting him to be strong when he’s 100 percent. This is an import-laden conference, you must have a solid import because he is the one who will guide you every game,” he added.
Mahindra assistant team manager Joe Ramos, meanwhile, said the Enforcers would rely on 6’9 Augustus Gilchrist, who is known for his perimeter shooting. Phoenix, formerly known as the Barako Bull franchise, chose Kenny Adeleke as its import.
The other new imports are Blackwater’s Malcolm Rhett and Meralco’s Arinze Onuaku.
Talk ‘N Text and Blackwater will clash in the second conference’s opening game at 4:15 p.m. followed by the Star Hotshots and Meralco match at 7 p.m. at the Araneta Coliseum.