The PBA’s 37th season is set to open this Sunday, and we’re barely able to contain our excitement. Here are 37 things to look forward to in the upcoming season.
1. Debuting SMART-Gilas playersWe’ve seen them — a lot — over the past three years. But this is the first time we’ll see them out of their SMART-Gilas Pilipinas jerseys. Jayvee Casio, Mac Baracael, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Lutz, Mark Barroca, even Jason Ballesteros and Dylan Ababou –- it’s going to be exciting to see how they all fare in the big leagues.
Technically, we’ve seen him in a PBA uniform before, when he played one game for Burger King in 2009. But instead of making a cameo appearance, Aguilar will be an honest-to-goodness part of the Talk ‘N Text lineup. The word “potential” has been bandied about for so long when it comes to Aguilar, and it’s time to see if he can finally make good on the promise of his talent.
2. Japeth Aguilar
3. Paul Lee playing for Yeng GuiaoPaul Lee, by himself, is already an exciting player. But Paul Lee under the tutelage of hard-nosed coach Guiao should be incredible: an aggressive, bull-strong guard with blue-chip talent, imbibed with the in-your-face mentality characteristic of Guiao’s wards.
4. The Ginebra chantLove ‘em or hate ‘em, the PBA is at its best when a whole stadium of Barangay Ginebra fans rock the venue with their signature chant.
5. Ginebra fans going crazy onlineWhen their favorite team was eliminated from finals contention in the 2011 PBA Governors’ Cup, Ginebra fans nearly had an Internet meltdown while chastising Talk ‘N Text for allegedly dropping a game to Petron Blaze. We’re expecting the barangay to go crazy on Twitter, Facebook, and message boards this season as they complain from everything about the lack of trades for their team, their perceived lack of support from San Miguel Corporation management, the coaches’ rotation, the glut of guards in the lineup, and everything else. Ginebra fans are the best.
6. Grand Slam encoreTalk ‘N Text’s failed Grand Slam chase made for good drama last season, and it’d be interesting to watch them try to climb that mountain once more.
7. The Cebuano hotshot back in SMCAfter being traded away last year by San Miguel, it’s heartening to see Dondon Hontiveros return to the Petron Blaze Boosters. Iba Ang May Pinagsamahan!
8. Tim Cone coaching vs. AlaskaHere’s an old PBA report from 1989. Two things from the second game jump out at us. The first is that rookies Benjie Paras of Shell and Paul Alvarez of Alaska had an insane shootout, scoring 44 and 43 points, respectively. The second is the coach of Alaska: Tim Cone.
Over the years, so many things have changed in the PBA, while Tim Cone and Alaska remained constant. It’s going to be weird seeing the Aces without Cone at the sidelines, and it’s going to be downright bizarre to see the American coach going head-to-head against his old team this season. Mark your calendars: October 12 features the first game of the season between Alaska and Tim Cone’s B-MEG.
9. The Dynamite Danny-Willie Thriller comboIt’s like a bizarre dream combination from the early 2000s, and while the Barako Bull duo of Willie Miller and Danny Seigle may be a little past its prime, these guys can still ball. Hopefully both guys stay healthy enough to keep Barako relevant.
10. Shopinas.comEverything about the franchise is sparkling new. The face of the franchise right now is Franz Pumaren, who will likely attempt to install his La Salle press into the new team. with sophomore Elmer Espiritu filling in the Rico Maierhofer role. Espiritu, while physically gifted, is basically unproven as a franchise player. Picking up familiar pieces from his old Green Archers team like Brian Ilad and Hyram Bagatsing is a curious move by Pumaren as well. There are so many question marks about the franchise that you can’t help but want to watch.
By the way, that gives us an excuse to link to this video once more.
11. Shopinas.com team governor Sheila LinaWe don’t think anyone from the PBA Board of Governors will disagree when we say that among its members, Shopinas.com executive Sheila Lina might be the most pleasant to look at. Just don’t ask us to pick who’s second.
12. Feuding coachesIn the Governors’ Cup finals, Petron Blaze coach Ato Agustin famously challenged Talk ‘N Text coach Chot Reyes to a fight after game 3. A few days ago, Reyes and Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao had a verbal altercation. While PBA commissioner Chito Salud has called such behavior unacceptable, fans wouldn’t mind seeing coaches feuding from time to time. It adds color to the league, and frankly, it’s boring when they act all diplomatic.
13. Jayjay’s last hurrahJayjay Helterbrand hasn’t been around much the past two seasons because of various injuries, and when he did play, he has only been a shadow of his old, lethal self. But if he does end up retiring after the Philippine Cup, at least he’d be able to do it on his own terms. Better yet, his fans could give him the love he deserves as he embarks on what could be his farewell tour.
14. Ren-Ren Ritualo, gunslingerRitualo’s career hasn’t been the same since he was traded to Talk ‘N Text in 2006, being reduced to a backup and later, a fringe player. But after reuniting with his old college coach at Shopinas.com, we might just see flashes of the old King Archer back this season.
15. SakuragiWhen people criticize PBA players for not playing with passion, it’s obvious that they’ve never seen Marc Pingris play.
16. The B-MEG triangle offenseTim Cone isn’t just taking over just any team when he jumped to the Purefoods franchise. He’s taking over a team that has won two all-Filipino crowns in the past five years.
It’s also a talented, veteran crew that has, for so long, relied on isolation plays featuring marquee players James Yap, Kerby Raymundo, and Peter June Simon to manufacture points. Can Cone install his equal-opportunity offense fast enough for the team to contend? He says he can. With 13 championship rings, it’s hard to argue with him.
17. Powerade’s buildupFor the umpteenth time, the Powerade Tigers have embarked on an offseason buildup, and lord knows if it will actually work. But with Jayvee Casio and Marcio Lassiter, the team finally has some young pieces for the future. It may not translate yet to wins, but if it does, then that means we’ll get to hear more of Bo Perasol’s twang in post-game interviews.
(What is up with Coach Bo’s accent? We couldn’t quite place it. Did he work at a call center? Does he hang out with Ben Tulfo during the offseason?)
18. Big Game JamesThe last two years have been a roller-coaster ride for James Yap and very little of it actually involved the game he plays for a living. After plenty of election campaigning for brother-in-law and now-president Noynoy Aquino, a messy-ish separation from wife Kris, and some injury struggles to end the season, it would be nice to see Yap, one of the great basketball talents of this generation, make a return to just playing ball.
19. Captain Marbel’s final flightKenneth Duremdes currently serves as alternate board governor for the Powerade Tigers, but there are murmurs that he’ll be back in action one last time. Hopefully, one of the most exciting players in league history can finally get the farewell he deserves.
20. Once Tigers: Dylan Ababou and Allein MaliksiThe two former University of Santo Tomas stalwarts have taken on varied paths after leaving college. Ababou, the star of the Tigers, joined SMART-Gilas, and spent most of the next two years riding the national team bench. His old backup Maliksi, on the other hand, played in different commercial leagues and won the PBA D-League’s first Most Valuable Player award, to boost his stock. In the 2011 PBA Draft, Barako Bull actually drafted Maliksi ahead of Ababou.
We’ll see, however, how the next chapter of their intertwined careers play out in the PBA.
21. Joel Banal at AlaskaEveryone is talking about Tim Cone, but we’re curious to see how his replacement, Banal, will do at the helm of the Aces. A great basketball tactician who should have been a head coach all this time, we suspect that Coach J will do just fine.
22. Captain Hook and Sol TrainMeralco will now have had a full offseason trying to get their two star players, Mac Cardona and Sol Mercado, in groove together. But with point guard Chris Ross still out, it remains to be seen if the two can co-exist in the same backcourt. Will they share the ball, or fight over it?
23. Marcio Lassiter, Rookie of the Year sleeperWe spoke to a very, very, very good PBA head coach last month, and he said that if he had the top pick in the draft, he would have taken Lassiter first overall on talent alone.
24. Mark the SparkMark Caguioa made a triumphant return to form last season, contending for the PBA MVP award. We’re hoping he continues to stay healthy as he carries the hopes and dreams of the Ginebra faithful.
25. AKTV’s new in-game reportersAngelicopter, Erika Padilla, Jessica Mendoza, and Sel Guevara will be the fresh new faces to brighten up the new season of the PBA.
26. Jason Castro, superstarWe saw just how important The Blur was for Talk ‘N Text last season, when the Tropang Texters lost momentum in their Grand Slam chase after Castro got injured. We expect a more dominant season for Castro this year.
27. B-MEG assistant coaches Johnny Abarrientos and Jeffrey CariasoIt’s a curious reunion of former Alaska pillars Abarrientos and Cariaso with their old coach Tim Cone over at the Purefoods franchise. Not quite as bizarre as Cone not coaching Alaska, but still odd.
28. Final curtain for great centers?Over the past decade or so, Asi Taulava, Eric Menk, and Danny Ildefonso have ruled the paint in the PBA. In the twilight of their careers, this might be the last chance for PBA fans to see these men play major minutes for their teams.
29. Arwind Santos, MVP?Santos had a storybook ending for the 2010-11 PBA season, winning his first title and nailing the finals MVP trophy as well. Can he build on it for another big run this year?
30. The return of J-Wash and RabehWhat will happen to Petron Blaze when fellow alpha dogs Jay Washington and Rabeh Al-Hussaini return to the fold? Arwind Santos has proven himself as a true franchise player and whether there’s room for more than one on the Boosters bench remains to be seen.
31. Imports with unlimited heightWe haven’t seen an import conference with no height limits for imports since 2007-08, when giants like Chris Alexander, Steve Thomas, Adam Parada, and Jameel Watkins manned the paint for PBA teams. In this season’s Commissioner’s Cup, teams will be allowed to sign reinforcements with no restrictions on height.
It’s a great idea, seeing as center is the position most teams are weakest at anyway. Plus it’s a chance to maybe see Big Daddy Marcus Douthit in the PBA again.