They're back

September 19, 2019
Terrence Romeo
TERRENCE ROMEO: One of the big stars showing his wares tonight as NorthPort makes its initial appearance in the season-ending conference.

WITH 11 of its biggest stars still licking the wounds of their horrific World Cup campaign a week ago, the Philippine Basketball Association quietly returns today with a doubleheader that kicks off its season-ending conference called the Governors' Cup at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Alaska tangles with Columbian Dyip at 4:30p.m. and Rain or Shine battles NorthPort at 7 the opening games of this import-flavored leg of the three-stage season which unfolds with league officials hoping fans will also troop back to the venues and prove they'll be around through thick and thin.

PBA commissioner Willie Marcial said the league attracts few fans at the beginning of a conference every time its players return from a disappointing campaign from international tournaments.

The league comes back after a month-long break, nearly two weeks after 11 of its finest players led by June Mar Fajardo of San Miguel Beer, Gabe Norwood of Rain or Shine and Japeth Aguilar of Ginebra joined naturalized player Andre Blatche in the Gilas squad that  played terribly and finished last among 32 nations in the Fiba World Cup in China.

The conference also opens shop with three of its member-teams--SMB, Talk 'N Text and Blackwater--playing in a tough invitational tournament in Macau. Unfortunately, only the Beermen are still in the running for the championship as of yesterday, with the Katropa and the Elite already getting the boot as early as Tuesday.

The Aces struggled in the last Commissioner’s Cup. Though they managed to make the playoff round as number 8, they were beaten right away by top team Talk ‘N Text in the quarterfinal round.

The debacle soon resulted in the resignation of coach Alex Compton, who had been replaced by Jeffrey Cariaso, himself a former Alaska stalwart who started and ended his professional career with the same franchise.

Now, Cariaso will have his baptism of fire as head coach as the Aces plunge into action right away in what could be a fresh start for what used to be a dominating team in the not-so-distant past in the pro-league.

The Aces -- owners of 14 titles in the pro-league in a tie with  Magnolia franchise for second place – will be backstopped by import Justin Watts. They are also unveiling two fresh acquisitions in Maverick Ahanmisi and Abu Tratter.

Although Watts has no NBA experience to speak of after going undrafted during the 2012 NBA draft, the 6-foot-5 former University of North Carolina stalwart has nevertheless kept himself busy since then, having played in Mexico, Japan, Uruguay, the Netherlands, Poland, Qatar, Lithuania and Switzerland.

Watts will suit up for the Aces in very  good shape, being fresh from a stint with the King Wilki Morskie Szczecin, a Polish professional basketball team based in Szczecin, West Pomeranian, Poland.

The Dyip, one of the four teams eliminated in the last Commissioner’s Cup after winning just three of 11 outings, will bank on import Khapri Alston whom Columbian coach Johnedel Cardel describes as a shifty, athletic, all-around player.

NorthPort and Rain or Shine collide in the main offering at 7 p.m. in an early battle of favorites.

Both the Batang Pier and the Elasto Painters had good account of themselves in the last Commissioner’s Cup, with the former finishing top 2 behind Talk ‘N Text after winning nine of 11 games in the elimination round and the latter advancing to as far as semifinal round.

The Batang Pier, then beefed up by American Prince Ibeh, made no farther than the quarterfinal round where they were beaten twice by San Miguel Beer.

With Mychal Ammons as their import here, the Batang Pier are hoping to flash the same intensity, or even better than that, in their bid to come up with a better finish.

The Elasto Painters’ former Star reinforcement Joel Wright is their import this conference. Wright played for the Hotshots back in 2016.

He averaged 28.4 points, 14.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.4 blocks in the seven games he played, although it wasn't enough then to help Star advance to the playoffs.

The Beermen and the KaTropa, who fought in the finals last conference, as well as the Blackwater Elite will start their campaign on Sept. 25.

The Beermen, who are now in search of the last of jewel in their Grand Slam bid, go up against Phoenix at 7 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum after the 4:30 p.m. game pitting the KaTropa with the Elite.