After doing the rounds in some preseason games, my gut feel is that the Philippine Cup will be a toss-up among six teams–Barangay Ginebra, San Miguel Beer, Talk ‘N Text, Alaska, Star and Rain or Shine.
Die-hard Ginebra fans have been been waiting for the last seven years to see their favorite Kings celebrate with a PBA championship.
And they are all hopeful that coach Tim Cone’s entry will bring the type of discipline and guidance to a talent-loaded team that has underperformed over the last few seasons.
Other than the triangle offense, Cone’s wealth of experience and the way he deals with his players will play a big role in Ginebra’s future success.
PBA legend Bong Alvarez himself attested that Cone is not just an “x and o” coach, because he is one type of person who shows his genuine concern to players.
Talent-wise, there isn’t anything much to say because we all know that Ginebra is loaded in every position.
The front court alone is scary, especially when Cone starts Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar.
Their size and length can make opposing guards who like to drive strong to the basket to second-guess because they mind end up as recipients of Slaughter or Aguilar’s “block parties”.
The presence of new boy Joe Devance also adds versatility to Ginebra because of his understanding of the “triangle”, having played under Cone since their Alaska days.
Expect Chris Ellis to also transform into a menacing lockdown-defender that Cone said he envisions.
As for the guard position, we all know what LA Tenorio, Mark Caguioa, Sol Mercado and JJ Helterbrand can do.
But given the two championships the Beermen won and the chemistry they have, they won’t just surrender the All-Filipino crown that easy.
The road to the AFC championship still passes through San Miguel.
While June Mar Fajardo will definitely have his hands full defending the likes of Greg and Japeth when SMB plays Ginebra, we all know that Austria utilizes his shooters well like Marcio Lassiter, Chris Lutz, Alex Cabagnot, Ronald Tubid and even Chris Ross, who has shown remarkable improvement from the three-point zone.
No doubt, Tautuaa and Rosario have gained a lot of experience with their exposure with Gilas in the Jones Cup.
And that could add up to their confidence when they start battling the PBA’s established bigs this season onwards.
But again, TNT still has the veteran, championship-tested cast of Jayson Castro, Ranidel de Ocampo, Larry Fonacier, along with the return of veteran defensive whiz Ryan Reyes and the key addition Denok Miranda and Dylan Ababou.
As for Alaska and Rain or Shine, both teams know how to win.
The Aces placed second both times to the Beermen last season, so the hunger factor, plus the early preseason work they have had can help them this year.
I expect The “Beast” Calvin Abueva to up his level of play after playing for Gilas and learning new tricks from coach Tab Baldwin, among others.
And again, Sonny Thoss, JV Casio, Vic Manuel, Cyrus Baguio, Dondon Hontiveros, Ping Exciminiano and RJ Jazul will make Alaska a tough team due to their dedication to defense and the “we-not-me” mentality.
Meantime, we’ve seen Rain or Shine draw first blood this season with its come-from-behind win against Star last Wednesday.
They may have several rookies in the team, and Paul Lee may be out for at least four weeks according to coach Yeng Guiao.
But this team knows how to win since ROS has been to the semifinals in nine of the last 10 conferences, including four runner-ups in the last three seasons.
The Hotshots, meanwhile, may have lost Cone to the Kings, but their veteran core of James Yap, Marc Pingris, PJ Simon and Mark Barroca are still there and surely determined to bounce back strong this season.
Yap’s numbers will soar once more in rookie coach Jason Webb’s up-tempo game with Barroca, along with Fil-Am’s Alex Mallari and Justin Melton pushing the basketball at every given opportunity.