Happy new year, Palawan!  Let’s kick off this year’s columns with what’s immediately in store for us in Philippine sports.

On January 13, 2019, the country’s premiere play for pay league, the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), will open its 44th season and guess which team is expected to bring home the bacon?

First off, all teams retooled via the draft, trade(s) or free agent signings but what really jumps off the page is that the strong really got stronger. The San Miguel Beermen, taking veteran international campaigner Christian Standhardinger In last year’s draft via a trade with Columbian Dyip, pulled another big trade securing the rights to the explosive gem Terrence Romeo from the TnT Katropa for Bryan Heruela, David Semerad, and a future first-round pick.

Personally, yours truly expected a much bigger deal. A blue chip player for a blue chip player scenario. That the Beermen secured Romeo for 2 role players and a rookie somewhat surprised me. Surely a trade for “TR” can command Talk N Text to ask for at least an SMB starter in the mix of things but I am sure the TnT think tank knows what is best and may have some more up their sleeves and who knows… the “TR” trade may yet be the first of more transactions to come as they rebuild their image. Talks are swirling on rumored post draft day transactions like Meralco’s Baser Amer and/ or even Blackwater rookie gem Bobby Ray Parks Jr. eventually joining the Katropa but these scenarios are wait and see at the moment.

Going back to Terrence Romeo settling in at the Beermen fold, what do we expect from this powerhouse team? Perhaps another All Filipino gem? They have a great chance of securing the AFC (All Filipino Conference) and let me outline why:

              * With Junemar Fajardo alternating with Christian Standhardinger down low, the Beermen are guaranteed of at least one big post up player at any point of the game.  Having a solid low post threat opens the avenue for shooters to fire away and we all know that the likes of Marcio Lassiter, Alex Cabagnot, Terrence Romeo and the Beermen bench are not shy in raining threes all game long.

              * Backcourt stability – with Chris Ross, Cabagnot and Romeo, the Beermen now have 3 able ball handlers for the Beermen. It will be hard to pull off a full court press against this team with a solid guard rotation like that

              * Arwind Santos – don’t forget that the Beermen still has Arwind Santos in their fold. Arwind can play all frontline positions for the Beermen and his outside sniping, rebounding and defensive intensity are still very much intact despite spending years in the league. He still is, what yours truly considers, the X- factor in this lineup. His versatility is such a valuable asset to the Beermen

              * A deep bench: Head coach Leo Austria has the luxury to keep minutes low for the SMB veterans without necessarily changing the on-court tempo of the game.  Ronald Tubid, Yancy De Ocampo, Kelly Nabong, Von Pessumal and transferee (from Balckwater) Paul Zamar are all quality reserves who can provide good relief minutes for SMB.

When you put them all together, it seems like no team can match well against the Beermen at least on paper. It is now up to the coaching staff to make sure the balance of minutes and chemistry is managed in training camp. Each player has to know their role in the overall picture and scheme of things.

Who can challenge the Beermen in the All Filipino Conference. Yours truly believes that the team with the height and bench strength can at least give the Beermen a good run and the first team that comes to mind is the Barangay Ginebra of coach Tim Cone.

A Fajardo – Greg Slaughter as well as a Standhardinger – Japeth Aguilar match up is a can’t miss spectacle. Ginebra has some solid back court rotation too with LA Tenorio, Sol Mercado and Earl Scottie Thompson rotating at the guard spots. Ginebra has its share of shooters too in Jeff Chan, Jet Manuel and Kevin Ferrer. They also have good medium range players essential for Tim Cone’s triangle: Jervy Cruz, Aljon Mariano and Art Dela Cruz.

Of course you still have the likes of Alaska, Magnolia, TnT, Meralco, Rain or Shine, NorthPort and NLEX who can pull off surprises this year. Even the Blackwater Elite can be a dark horse this season along with the Phoenix Fuel Masters. It is looking on paper that SMB and Ginebra are solid bets this coming conference and a wide open race for quarterfinal placings with all teams upgrading in the offseason. Alas, it seems Columbian Dyip, although landing top pick CJ Perez, will still be at the tail end of the tourney with the lack of superstar caliber players on their fold.

Palawan, another fun filled calendar year of our very own PBA is set to unravel on January 13, 2019 at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan. More power to our “Liga ng Bayan”!

(The writer is a senior leader of the only Business Process Outsourcing Contact Center company in Puerto Princesa. He also is the current Puerto Princesa Underground River Festival Foundation President)

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