Looks like 2017 will be another great year for basketball in the country. The on-going Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) All-Filipino tournament has been exciting so far with highly competitive games. Also, efforts are currently being made to rescue the Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL) from cancellation as commissioner Joe Lipa and his group are working round the clock to hold the games soon.
But the best news so far is that the PBA Developmental League (D-League) will be opening its 7th season this week, and it looks promising. Ten teams are seeing action in the Aspirants Cup that will kick off on Thursday at the Ynares Arena in Pasig City led by original members Tanduay Rhum Masters and Café France Bakers—Centro Escolar University. Also returning are the Wang’s Basketball Couriers, Jose Rizal University (JRU) Heavy Bombers, Racal Ceramica Tile Masters, and AMA Online Education Titans. Guest team Blustar of Malaysia joins newcomers Cignal HD Hawkeyes—San Beda, Victoria Sports —Manuel L. Quezon University Stallions, and Team Batangas to complete the cast.
Former champion Café France is considered by many as the team to beat with an imposing front line led by 6’6” powerhouse Rodrigue Ebondo of Congo, 6’7” Colegio de San Lorenzo center Jon Jon Gabriel and 6’6” Santo Tomas post defender Jeepy Faundo. Johnedel Cardel takes over the coaching chores from Egay Macaraya, and inherits a deep roster composed of mostly CEU stalwarts like Aaron Jeruta and John Casino, plus collegiate standouts Michael Calisaan of San Sebastian College and Paul Desiderio of University of the Philippines (UP).
Tanduay and Racal are the other strong contenders in this first conference. Coach Lawrence Chongson has a crack outside shooting unit with former Letran ace Mark Cruz, UP’s Dave Moralde, UST’s Louie Vigil and former Far Eastern University (FEU) shooter Paul Sanga, with No. 2 over-all draft pick Jomari Sollano. On the other hand, the Tile Masters of coach Jerry Codinera are made up of mostly NCAA stars like Arellano’s Kent Salado and Lervin Flores, Letran’s Rey Nambatac, Lyceum’s Joseph Gabayni, Emilio Aguinaldo’s Sydney Onwubere and Perpetual Help’s Darrel Singontiko.
AMA of coach Mark Herrera is no pushover either with top draft pick Jeron Teng, tried-and-true guards Juami Tiongson and Diego Dario, and rebounding specialist Jay-R Taganas. Team Batangas of coach Eric Gonzales will be bannered by an almost all-Batangueno gang, plus Yutien Andrada, Dan Sara and CJ Isit. Cignal of coach Boyet Fernandez will have the core of 2015 NCAA champion San Beda College (SBC), led by Davon Potts, Robert Bolick and Javee Mocon, plus FEU gunner Monbert Arong, Mark Bringas and Harold Arboleda. JRU of coach Vergel Meneses will rely on his one-two punch of Tey Teodoro and Paolo Pontejos and Cameroonian inside operator Abdouladif Poutouochi. Victoria Sports of coach Jinino Manansala has Fil-Am sensation Robby Herndon, ex-Red Lion Ryusei Koga, Arellano’s three-point artist Zach Nichols and Philippine Christian U hotshot Mike Ayonayon, with MLQU stars Chris Bitoon, Aris Dionisio and Jayson Grimaldo. Wang’s of coach Pablo Lucas will bank on National U spitfire Cedrick Labing-isa, and versatile swingmen Mark Brana, Von Tambeling and Mark Juruena.
Batangas and AMA will tangle in the lone match on opening day right after the 3PM opening rites.
Since its birth in 2011, the PBA D-League has opened its doors to a total of 41 ball clubs already including the current ten members. NLEX was its first ever champion, which also owns the most titles in the seven-year old league with six, all under coach Fernandez. Phoenix Accelerators won the last two. Hapee Toothpaste, Café France and Blackwater have one each. Newly appointed SBC Red Lions coach Boyet Fernandez hopes to annex his seventh crown but this time with rookie team Cignal. Curiously, San Beda returns to the D-League with a fourth corporate partner in Cignal TV, after Maynilad, NLEX and Hapee. It has D-League championships with NLEX and Hapee. The only other school-based teams with a D-League crown are CEU (Café France) and FEU (Phoenix).
Games will be played on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3PM and 5PM, mostly at the Ynares Arena in Pasig, and with Sports5 as television partner.
With no clear dominant squad, we can expect a mad dash to the finals this conference.