AFTER a one-year absence, a Philippine team, supported no less by boxing legend Manny Pacquiao, is back in the Asean Basketball League (ABL).
To be known as the Pacman Mindanao Aguilas, the franchise will be made up mostly of players coming from the Mindanao region and to be coached by Niño Rejhi Natividad.
Aside from the 36-year-old Pacquiao, who is playing-coach of KIA in the PBA and owner of the MP Hotel team in the PBA-D League, also backing the team are Zamboanga businessmen Mark Chiong and Rolando Navarro Jr.
The entry of the Mindanao Aguilas will mark the return of the country to the regional cage league after San Miguel left the ABL in 2013 shortly upon winning the championship against the Indonesia Warriors.
The ABL is set to open its sixth season in October.
Then again, the new ballclub will have large shoes to fill in as two of the previous Filipino teams which competed in the ABL both emerged champions – the Philippine Patriots during the inaugural ABL season in 2010 and San Miguel three years later.
But Natividad vows the Aguilas will be a competitive team.
“Playing in the ABL gives players from our area an opportunity to showcase their talent. Since Boss Manny (Pacquiao) is a proven winner, he wants our team not just to participate but also to excel, compete against the best in the Southeast Asian region, and contend for the championship in our maiden season,” he said.
“Our mandate is to field the best team possible and to also further develop the sport in Mindanao.”
At the same time, the ABL stint also serves as way to further unite Christian and Muslims in Mindanao through basketball.
“We want to showcase the basketball talent of players from Mindanao region and that we can play in competitive leagues such as the ABL,” said Mindanao Aguilas general manager Sergei Bien Orillo.
“Our participation is also a sign of unity and peace in this region. Boss Manny Pacquiao is proud to show the untapped talent and resources from Mindanao, and how beautiful its cities are to the rest of the Philippines and the Asean nations.”
Others supporting the team’s campaign are Monsi Dela Cruz, general manager of Lantaka Hotel, and the various mayors and governors from the different cities and provinces in Mindanao.