The Philippine Basketball Association is set to open its doors for the second conference of its 2021 COVID-19-shortened season on December 8, the Feast of the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, with a twinbill featuring the Olu Ashaolu-powered Alaska Aces versus the Cameron Forte-reinforced NorthPort Batang Pier followed by the clash between the KJ McDaniels-led NLEX Road Warriors and the Brandon Brown-bolstered San Miguel Beermen.
Of course, we all know Ashaolu as the import of the Road Warriors first in 2018, when he suffered a 70-percent tear on his knee after a few games and replaced by Aaron Fuller, and in 2019, when he returned the favor by replacing Tony Mitchell as NLEX’s reinforcement. This will be Ashaolu’s third stint in the PBA but now would be playing for a different squad that is quite reeling from the back-to-back departures of veterans Vic Manuel and JV Casio.
But they will find beating the Batang Pier a rather hard nut to crack following successive trades that brought 7’0” behemoth Greg Slaughter and then former MVP Arwind Santos to the fold. With Forte, NLEX will have a banger who isn’t afraid of action in the paint, recently showing his bulldozing ways as the naturalized player for the Jordanian national squad.
Meanwhile, the NLEX-San Miguel donnybrook will not be bereft of explosive action as new recruit Kris Rosales and returnee Marion Magat, not to mention Daniels who previously played for Talk N’ Text, will definitely prove that the trust of head coach Yeng Guiao in hiring their services aren’t at all misplaced.
Over at the San Miguel side, however, coach Leo Austria will have in his employ what certainly is one of the most talented bunch of players with Manuel and Enciso joining an All-Star squad that already boasts of six-time MVP Junemar Fajardo, Terrence Romeo, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Ross, CJ Perez, and Moala Tautuaa and the balik-import Brown, who showed his stuff for Phoenix way back in 2017.
But to say that the most anticipated debut among all the 12 teams in harness for the 2021-22 Governor’s Cup isn’t really that of defending champions the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Gin Kings is an abject lie. The Never-Say-Die team, coached by the most-bemedalled champion mentor in Asia’s first play-for-pay league—historic bench tactician Tim Cone, is up for a huge pay-back after losing their All-Filipino crown following injuries to key players in the last conference. In fact, so off was their play in the Philippine Cup that they were only good for a 4-7 slate in the eliminations before losing to eventual champs the TNT Katropa in the quarters.
And with classy and prolific scorer Justin Brownlee returning for yet another tour of duty to add to his four-championship resume that was further highlighted by a Best Import Award a couple of seasons ago, there’s enough reason to believe that he again can lift Ginebra over the mountaintop, of course with the help of the three-headed guard combo of Finals MVPs LA Tenorio, Stanley Pringle and Scottie Thompson and the big-man combine of Best Players of the Conference Japeth Aguilar and Christian Standhardinger.
Now, with hardworking wing Sidney Onwubere joining them in the off-season coupled with CStan having a longer pre-conference practice time to learn the ropes of the triangle system, something deprived of him prior to the last confab due to COVID-19 restrictions, the millions of kabarangays all over the country should feel positive about their chances in this year’s Governor’s Cup starting with their game against the Aces on the fifth day of the tourney on December 12 (I feel like they’d gift us, me and my wife Grace, with a win right on our silver wedding anniversary on 12-12-21!).
I will be so looking forward to seeing a new, more potent Ginebra crew this Sunday evening. Hopefully, a convincing win will thoroughly erase all the frustrations and disappointments of their legion of fans during the last Philippine Cup. There’s a bit of history going on for them this conference that makes me believe they’d be lifting the trophy at tourney’s end—the Gin Kings NEVER had a season since 2016 that they failed to win at least a conference! If they can win the single-confab All-Filipino crown back in 2020 with all those challenges and minus their man in the middle, they’ll surely go for broke winning this one for all of their kabarangays out there!