MANILA, Philippines -- Teams that will parade intact rosters loom as early favorites in the 2022 PBA D-League Aspirants Cup, which unfolds on Thursday at the Araneta Coliseum.
Eight teams will be seeing action in the D-League as it returns from a two-year hiatus. Two teams -- Wangs Basketball@26-Letran and Adalem Construction St. Clare -- are coming off championships in their respective tournaments.
The Knights ruled the NCAA Season 97 men's basketball tournament in dominant fashion, while the Saints are coming off a fifth consecutive championship in the NAASCU.
Also tipped as an early contender is Eco Oil-La Salle, which features the core of the Green Archers that just missed out on making the finals of the UAAP Season 84 men's basketball tournament.
St. Clare College of Caloocan coach Jinino Manansala downplayed the expectations for his squad, instead pointing at Colegio de San Juan de Letran, De La Salle University, and even Marinerong Pilipino as contenders.
"Intact na teams ang mga 'yan at mataas na liga ang nilalaruan nila," said Manansala in the virtual Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum on Tuesday. "Pero siyempre in fairness sa ibang teams, lalaban din ang mga 'yan. Hindi naman kami sumali dito para tumakbo-takbo lang."
Meanwhile, La Salle assistant coach Gian Nazario also pointed out that half of the team they are fielding are rookies, with key cogs Mark Nonoy, Evan Nellie, and Deschon Wilson sitting out the tournament to catch up on their academic requirements.
"We're really focusing on our team development and we’ll try to absorb every experience we can get in this tournament knowing na mataas naman ang level of competition in the D-League," said Nazario.
Meanwhile, San Sebastian College coach Egay Macaraya said that teams with imports should also have a good chance to contend for the D-League crown.
"'Yung mga all-Filipino teams na sumasali sa D-League meron kaming disadvantage," said Macaraya, whose team will not feature a foreign student-athlete. "Pero maganda ang competition diyan and maraming matututunan ang players ko so who knows, baka matalo namin 'yung iba. 'Yung teams to beat, 'yung mga may imports siguro."
The Saints will have an import in Babacar Ndong, who will team up with Johnsherick Estrada, the reigning Rookie-MVP of NAASCU.
AMA Online, Builders Warehouse-University of Santo Tomas, and Centro Escolar University Scorpions complete the eight-team field in the season-opening tournament last ruled by Cignal-Ateneo de Manila University in 2019.
The tournament will follow a single round-robin format, with the top six teams advancing to the next round. The top two teams will gain outright semifinals berths, while the next four teams will play in the quarterfinals where the third- and fourth-seed hold a twice-to-beat bonus.
The opening games will pit Wang Basketball @26-Letran against Adalem Construction-St. Clare right away at 10:30 a.m., followed by the CEU Scorpions-AMA Online clash at 12:30 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The games are open to the public, though they will have to provide vaccination cards to gain entry and wear their face masks at all times.