Guest team Bay Area will get a baptism of fire while NorthPort and Phoenix start their bids without their key players when the Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner’s Cup formally unwraps on Wednesday, 21 September at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
The Dragons will take center stage when it battles Blackwater at 3 p.m. while the Batang Pier and the Fuel Masters collide in the 5:45 main event in the opening salvo of this import-flavored conference.
The Batang Pier had just unloaded athletic forward Jamie Malonzo, but acquired players from Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in Arvin Tolentino, Prince Caperal, Jeff Chan and Kent Salado following a three-way transaction that was formalized on Tuesday.
The Fuel Masters, on the other hand, lost their top gunner Matthew Wright, who joined Kyoto Hanaryz in the Japanese B. League following the expiration of his contract.
But focus will be on the visiting team from Hong Kong.
With Brian Goorjian, who led Australia to an Olympic bronze medal last year, calling the shots, the Dragons will be tough nuts to crack.
In fact, they won all of their eight friendly matches in the preseason, raising speculations that they can hold their ground against elite teams in the oldest professional basketball league in Asia.
Goorjian will be assisted by former De La Salle University star Cholo Villanueva, who is tipped to provide familiarity from the bench after serving as assistant coach to Franz Pumaren at Air21 and Globalport few years ago.
The Dragons will also be fielding a crack unit headed by National Basketball Association veteran Andrew Nicholson.
Selected 19th overall in the 2012 Rookie Draft, Nicholson played for three NBA teams – the Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets – in which he averaged six points and three rebounds per game in six seasons.
Nicholson will join forces up front with 7-foot-5 Liu Chuanxing, a member of the Chinese national team, as well as mainstay Duncan Reid, a long-time member of the Hong Kong national squad.
The Bossing will be in for a tough battle, but head coach Ariel Vanguardia hopes that they can replicate their solid performance in the Philippine Cup.
Blackwater will be reinforced by Cameron Krutwig, a first-time reinforcement in Asian basketball.
The 6-foot-8 Krutwig powered the Loyola Chicago Ramblers to a second-round upset of top seed Illinois in last year’s National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament.
He, however, is not the only addition to the squad.
The Bossing also acquired former national team member Troy Rosario and Gab Banal from TNT Tropang Giga in a three-team deal that involved Calvin Oftana and Brandon Ganuelas-Rosser.
“It’s time for us to build from our playoff run last conference and Troy and Gab will give us a lot of playoff experience moving forward,” said Vanguardia, wary of the Fuel Masters who will be bannered by import Kaleb Weeson.
“As a coach, the challenge is to make this work and we will only know if the decision of trading for them is right based on the results.”