ALL eyes will be on Justin Gutang as the Fil-Am forward is tasked to lead Go for Gold-CSB back to the promised land this 2019 PBA D-League season.
Coach Charles Tiu has already laid down the law for the 6-foot-1 forward as he's expected to take a bigger responsibility this year for the Scratchers.
"I think it's gonna be a big challenge for him," he said.
"Before, nobody knew him. Now, na-scout na siya and he's a marked man. It's gonna be a real test for him. Hopefully, we improved his skills. I think he'll be even better, but he has to mature also as a person and as a player."
Gutang will be at the forefront of the fight for Go for Gold-CSB, together with Fil-Am sniper Roosevelt Adams and Cameroonian slotman Clement Leutcheu, as it aims to remain with the league's heavyweights in the upcoming staging of the developmental ranks.
However, Tiu knows that with the wider field comes a tougher draw, thus making the Scratchers' dream of claiming the trophy once again a more difficult ascent.
"It will be a tough climb for us to win the championship again," said the youthful mentor as the pool jumped from six teams to 20 this year.
Go for Gold-CSB is slotted in the Aspirants' Group, where it is set to take on contenders like Cignal-Ateneo, UST, and Petron-Letran, as well as budding challengers in AMA Online Education, St. Clare Virtual Reality, Batangas-EAC, Family Mart-Enderun, and McDavid.
Making the title retention bid all the more challenging is the Scratchers' preseason difficulties, with players going down with illnesses and injuries that have beset their preparations.
"We've been getting injured a lot, players are getting sick and it hurt our preparation," rued Tiu as he acknowledged teams already counting his side out.
Underdogs as they may be, Go for Gold-CSB is still a champion in its own right as Tiu promises to bring his side's A-game every single day.
"I know a lot of teams are counting us out and don't even expect us to be playoff contenders, but we're gonna do our best," he said. "The fact that we have a whole team intact, I think malaking bagay yun. We're looking at this as a stepping stone for the NCAA."
Go for Gold-CSB opens its campaign against Cignal-Ateneo at 4 p.m. at Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig on Thursday.