NLEX coach Boyet Fernandez takes on a familiar face in Cagayan Valley counterpart Alvin Pua when the Finals of the PBA D-League Aspirants Cup get underway on Thursday at Ateneo's Blue Eagle gym.
Fernandez once handled Pua during his short-lived pro career back when the NLEX mentor was starting out his coaching career with Sta. Lucia in the PBA during the 2007-08 season.
And with one look at the way the Rising Suns' play, Fernandez knows right away Pua has built a team that is similar to the former San Sebastian Stag’s personality on the court.
“He is a defensive-minded player,” Fernandez said. “And it shows in the way he molded his team.”
That’s exactly the kind of opponent the Road Warriors will be facing in Game One of the best-of-three title series starting at 3 p.m. as they begin their quest for a fourth straight league title.
Fernandez has steered the Road Warriors to titles in the league’s first three conferences behind a team bannered by Calvin Abueva, Chris Ellis, and Cliff Hodge – all of whom are now playing in the PBA.
NLEX earned another trip to the Finals after a pulsating 87-85 victory over the Air21-Jose Rizal University in their win-or-go home decider Tuesday.
Kirk Long was responsible for the Road Warriors making the championship series again after he blocked a potential-game winning three-pointer by Bomber Byron Villarias in the waning seconds of their match-up.
Game One, incidentally, is a homecoming of sorts for Long and NLEX teammates Greg Slaughter and Nico Salva, all three of whom suited up for reigning five-time UAAP men’s basketball champions Ateneo Blue Eagles.
On the other hand, Cagayan Valley earned a breakthrough stint in the Finals by ousting second-ranked Blackwater Sports, in their similar do-or-die encounter also on Tuesday, 80-68.