NLEX begins its bid for a fourth straight PBA D-League title on Tuesday when it tackles Erase XFoliant in the Aspirants Cup at the Filoil Flying V Arena in San Juan.
The Road Warriors, the only squad to win in the one-year-old league, lost key players to the PBA and the newly-formed star-studded lineup will be put to the test in the 2 p.m. match.
Gone are Cliff Hodge, Chris Ellis, Calvin Abueva, Emman Monfort, and Jaypee Belencion, who helped NLEX clinch all three conference titles so far in the league.
Carrying the fight this time are Greg Slaughter and Nico Salva of Ateneo, Baser Amer of San Beda, Kevin Alas of Letran, and Eric Camson of Adamson along with Smart Gilas member Matthew Allen Ganuelas.
Slaughter, however, will not be able to play for the Road Warriors until he obtains a clearance from the Bureau of Immigration. The Fil-American has played in the UAAP and for the national team but needs to present documents such as an authenticated birth certificate and other papers that are required of PBA and PBA Developmental League aspirants.
The team looks good on paper, but coach Boyet Fernandez remains concerned because they have yet to practice with a full lineup due to the players’ commitments with their schools.
“This game is a big test for us,” said the NLEX head coach. “We haven't practiced with a complete lineup going into this game because my new players have to finish first their commitments with their schools.
“So my concern right now is the team’s chemistry. We are basically a new team and we’re still a work in progress,” Fernandez said.
While the Road Warriors are still groping for chemistry, Erase XFoliant has been preparing as a unit after tabbing several players from NCAA team Perpetual Help along with Altas head coach Aric Del Rosario.
The Altas made it to the Final Four under Del Rosario’s watch but fell to San Beda, where Fernandez works as one of the assistant coaches to Ronnie Magsanoc.
“I have so much respect for coach Aric. He’s a champion coach… We are expecting a tough encounter. But as always, we’ll be ready,” Fernandez said.
In the second game, the Cagayan Rising Suns go for the early lead when they face Boracay Rum at 4 p.m.
The Rising Suns, which finished with a 0-9 win-loss card in their debut last conference, scored a breakthrough with an 89-85 win over Informatics in the opener last Tuesday.
“Wala naman kaming target, basta every game bigay lang namin ’yung best namin para kahit papano, andyan lang kami sa liga,” said Cagayan coach Alvin Pua.
The shorthanded Waves hope to come back after they bowed to Cebuana Lhuillier, 76-86, last Tuesday.
Boracay Rum welcomes Roider Cabrera of Adamson and Glenn Khobuntin of National University following their stint with their respective schools in the University Games in Bacolod City.
Following the NCAA Finals, Letran center Raymond Almazan is expected to suit up for the Rising Suns and add firepower to the roster that already has Chris Exciminiano, James Forrester, Adrian Celada, and Joshua Webb.