MANILA, Philippines - The two powerhouse teams have built up further under new coaches to better maintain whatever edge they have over the eight other squads as the Philippine Basketball Association gained a more competitive balance with its 38th season unfolding on Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Talk n Text and Petron Blaze are still considered the major contenders with Norman Black and Olsen Racela at the helm of their respective squads. But pre-season player-movements and prized haul from the rookie draft have made the upcoming season unpredictable, ensuring a wide open battle for the coveted All Filipino crown.
The Tropang Texters have kept their champion roster intact while the Boosters have strengthened their already rock-solid lineup with the addition of prized amateur recruits, making the two teams the top choices for the 2012-13 PBA wars.
Barangay Ginebra, San Mig Coffee (formerly B-Meg) and Rain or Shine are considered the dark horses in the season starting with the Philippine Cup where Talk n Text chases a third straight crown.
Ginebra and new ballclub Global Port play in the opening game following the elaborate opening rites set to start at 4:30 p.m.
Commissioner Chito Salud promised a show to remember during the inaugurals where among those serving as muses are Anne Curtis for San Mig Coffee, Isabel Daza for Petron Blaze, Georgina Wilson for Ginebra, Sam Pinto for Global Port, Alice Dixson for Talk n Text, the current Miss Earth for Air21, a Brazilian model for Barako Bull and Artista Academy talents for Meralco.
Salud is expecting better competition among 10 ballclubs for the new season featuring 18 new faces from the amateurs, five comebacking players and 19 veterans donning new uniforms.
“The fans have clearly spoken. They want fast-paced games and balanced competition among all 10 teams. Are we there? Not yet, but we’re getting there. You could see the likes of Barako, Air21 and Meralco who’ll be up there. Everything points to a very successful season,” said Salud during the official launch of the 38th PBA season at the Diamond Hotel in Manila yesterday.
Board chairman Robert Non, vice chairman Mon Segismundo, treasurer Ely Capacio, Air21’s Lito Alvarez, Global Port’s Eric Arejola, Talk n Text’s Patrick Gregorio, Barako’s Manny Alvarez, Rain or Shine’s Andy Jao and San Mig Coffee’s Rene Pardo graced the occasion – all picking Talk n Text and Petron Blaze as the teams to beat.
The two squads will be under new coaches with Norman Black taking over from Chot Reyes at TnT and Olsen Racela replacing Ato Agustin at Petron.
Both clubs are returning with their star-studded rosters with Petron becoming more formidable with the addition of top draft pick Junmar Fajardo and third choice Alex Mallari.
All team officials, however, are not counting out their respective clubs, stressing they did their assignments during the off-season.
“The three SMC teams are tough, but we’ll be contender with our acquisitions,” said Lito Alvarez, upbeat with their lineup now also featuring John Wilson, Noy Baclao, KG Canaleta, Rob Reyes and rookies Yousif Taha and Simon Atkins.
Alvarez promised a finals stint by the Express in the third conference where they will be bringing back outstanding import Zach Graham.
“I shared the sentiments of Mr. Alvarez. However, I don’t count out Talk n Text which is the defending champion,” said Arejola, a former La Salle Archer.
“Petron and San Mig Coffee are tough, but my gut feel is that Rain or Shine will be there,” said Gregorio.
“Talk n Text, Petron and San Mig Coffee are forces to reckon with, but I don’t count out Barako,” said Manny Alvarez.
“Talk n Text is the defending champion with a new coach but with the same team. Ginebra is a strong team. B-Meg should be a contender with the addition of Aldrech Ramos. And all the teams are contenders. It’s a matter of getting their core together,” said Jao.
“All the ballclubs are quite competitive but I’ll be lying if I don’t say San Mig Coffee is up there,” said Pardo.
“The league has achieved a good competitive level and it’s going to be a very interesting all-Filipino tourney. It’s anybody’s game but the major contenders are Talk n Text with its intact lineup, Rain or Shine with its championship experience and Petron once it gets the proper blend,” said Capacio.
Non promised a finals appearance by Ginebra while Segismundo said he loves underdogs and he looks forward to a strong finish by Global Port Batang Pier.