MANILA, Philippines – Never has the race to the championship been this wide open, with 13 teams set to compete in the 2018 PBA D-League Aspirants Cup starting on Thursday.
Eleven school-based teams – the most in the history of the league – will participate in the first conference of the eighth season. This early, some teams are already being tabbed as potential title contenders.
Leading the charge is Zark's Burger-Lyceum of the Philippines University, as the Jawbreakers will have the complete core of the Pirates team that went to the NCAA Season 93 Finals last year.
Season MVP CJ Perez will take charge for the squad, with Topex Robinson again calling the shots. He will be joined by fellow Pirates Jaycee Marcelino and Mike Nzeusseu, both past winners of the NCAA Rookie of the Year award.
Also looking to make a run to the title is the loaded Marinerong Pilipino team, bannered by University of the East's super scorer, Alvin Pasaol.
Coach Koy Banal will also have rookies Abu Tratter of De La Salle University and Vince Tolentino of Ateneo de Manila University at his disposal for the Skippers.
Akari-Adamson University will also test their mettle in the D-League as coach Franz Pumaren parades his roster led by Jerrick Ahanmisi, Sean Manganti, and Cameroonian bruiser Papi Sarr to the fire.
With Congolese center Rod Ebondo, diminutive guard Orlan Wamar, and sniper Joseph Manlangit still in the fray, Centro Escolar University is expected to remain a figure in the playoffs.
Che’Lu Bar and Grill-San Sebastian College is also eyeing a spot among the elites with Michael Calisaan, RK Ilagan, and Samboy de Leon doing the heavy lifting.
The future, meanwhile, will be in full bloom as Wangs Basketball-Letran parades its new-look roster led by Bong Quinto, Jeo Ambohot, and JP Calvo.
As always, Jose Rizal University is seen to pull off a few shockers along the way as the Heavy Bombers brought in familiar faces in Ervin Grospe and Paolo Pontejos to help new ace Jed Mendoza.
Ex-pro Jerwin Gaco also makes his comeback, this time as a sage for the young Go for Gold crew which will lean on J-Jay Alejandro and Kent Salado.
The same is the case for fan favorite Andre Paras, who will be counted on to be the stabilizer for AMA Online Education.
Batangas-Emilio Aguinaldo College forged an interesting union with Cedric de Joya and Jerome Garcia tasked to provide leadership for the Generals.
Coach Frankie Lim also returns to the sidelines, this time as a consultant for University of Perpetual Help, as he aims to turn Nigerian center Prince Eze, and locals AJ Coronel and Keith Pido to winners.
Not to be outdone, Gamboa Coffee-St. Clare College wishes to spruce up some surprises with Aris Dionisio and Chris Bito-on taking the mantle.
Last but not the least, Mila’s Lechon is eyeing to deliver shockers with Ken Acibar, Axel Inigo, and Mark Sarangay bannering the squad.
Only six teams will advance in the playoffs after the single-round eliminations, with the top two teams earning an outright semifinals berth.
Third and fourth-ranked teams will hold a twice-to-beat advantage against fifth and sixth-seeded squads in the quarterfinals, with the winners advancing to the Final Four.
The semifinals and the Finals will be played in a best-of-three series.
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