DIGOS CITY — While a new slam-dunk champion is set to be crowned for the first time in five years, the reigning three-time three-point shootout titlist hopes the title won't change hands just yet.
Air21’s Nino Canaleta is not defending the title after winning it for five straight years and has opted to focus on his bid to unseat three-point champion Mark Macapagal of Barako Bull on Friday in the PBA All-Star festivities at the Davao del Sur Coliseum.
Macapagal says defending his title won’t be easy since aside from Canaleta, he’ll be up against an elite list of participants led by two-time PBA season MVP winners James Yap and Willie Miller, sophomore standout Jayvee Casio, Rain or Shine rookie hotshot Chris Tiu, Petron gunner Marcio Lassiter and Barangay Ginebra’s Josh Urbiztondo.
“Puro magagaling ang kasali,” said the sweet-shooting Macapagal. “Ang problema pa nito, matagal akong di nakakahawak ng bola dahil matagal na kaming pahinga.”
Canaleta, the Express’ 6-foot-6 star forward, ruled the annual dunk-fest for a record fifth straight time in last year’s All-Star edition in Laoag City but fell short in the three-point shootout.
The 6’2” Macapagal beat Canaleta, Urbiztondo and Lassiter in the finale last year to become the first three-time ruler of the event. Before the Laoag edition of the PBA All-Stars, Mapacagal, Allan Caidic, Jasper Ocampo and Boyet Fernandez shared the top honors as two-time winners.
Now Canaleta is one of the shooters to watch out for, coming off a career-best average of 15.5 points this conference on 36 percent accuracy from the three-point range.
His absence in the dunk contest paves the way for a new champion this year, and considered one of the top favorites is Barangay Ginebra’s high-flying rookie Chris Ellis.
Ellis, the 6-4 forward out or Mary Liarden Baylor College, promised to entertain fans with some rim-rattling moves as he tries to go for his first-ever PBA dunk title against Petron’s Arwind Santos, teammate Elmer Espiritu, Alaska rookie Calvin Abueva and Meralco freshman forward Cliff Hodge.
Meanwhile, Barako Bull guard Jonas Villanueva aims for his fourth straight crown in the Obstacle Challenge where participants go through a course while performing different basketball skills. The player who finishes the course in the shortest time wins the crown.
Expected to provide a serious challenge are Miller, himself a former three-time winner, Casio, Hodge, Mark Barroca, Simon Atkins, Ronald Tubid, Pamboy Raymundo and Paul Lee.
Villanueva retained the Obstacle Challenge crown for the second time in Laoag, matching Miller’s three-year reign from 2006 to 2008.