Star begins post-James Yap era with tough test against San Miguel in PBA opener
Paul Lee makes his Star debut in the PBA opener against SMB. Karlo Sacamos

SAN Miguel is seeking history as it begins its title defense of the PBA Philippine Cup on Sunday.

All eyes will be on the Star Hotshots, though.

The league’s glamour team takes on the reigning champions during the lone game ushering the league’s 42nd season at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in what serves as the start of a new era in franchise history.

For the first time after 12 seasons, Star will not be having superstar and two-time MVP James Yap around after the veteran shooting guard, for so long considered as the face of the Hotshots, was shipped to Rain or Shine in a celebrated off-season trade for Paul Lee.

For the first time in a year, too, the team will have a new coach in Chito Victolero, who took over the spot of Jason Webb following a season in which the fancied Hotshots underachieved despite having a formidable roster.

Naturally, the heat will be on them in the 6:30 p.m. encounter, which also signals the start of the Beermen’s bid to become only the second team to win the Jun Bernardino Perpetual Trophy – permanently given to the ballcub that wins the all-Filipino title three straight times.

Victolero is aware what his team faces right on opening day, but reminded the Hotshots on the eve of the game to just relax and enjoy playing.

“There’s always pressure naman. Hindi naman mawawala yan,” said Victolero, who is making his coaching comeback following his aborted stint with Mahindra last season. “It’s how you handle it (pressure), so I told them to just stay focused.

“Wala naman tayong magagawa, binigay agad sa atin yung defending champion.”

[See PBA preview: Star, NLEX, Rain or Shine, GlobalPort stacked in middle of the pack]

Aside from Lee, playing outside of a Rain or Shine jersey for the first time since 2012, Star will also be parading new players Aldrech Ramos, free agent Smaboy de Leon and Alvin Abundo, along with rookies Jio Jalalon and Chris Javier.

In return, Star lost veteran Alex Mallari and rising guard RR Garcia.

Victolero sees the match-up against San Miguel as the perfect opportunity to check where the chemistry of Hotshots is right now.

“It’s an opportunity para sa amin na makita kung nasaan na kami ngayon,” he said. “Halos kalahati ng team bago kaya ang bigger picture is to see our chemistry together.”

The Beermen have also lost a couple of players in the off-season, primarily Ryan Arana, Gary David, and Bitoy Omolon. But they got a lot in return, signing the likes of Garcia, gutsy sophomore Keith Agovida, and the rookie pair of Arnold Van Opstal and Rashawn McCarthy.


The reigning champs went 0-3 in the offseason, but that hardly deters coach Leo Austria.

“We’ll be ready, that’s for sure,” said the champion coach.

The Beermen didn’t have Marcio Lassiter, Yancy de Ocampo, David Semerad, and three-time reigning MVP June Mar Fajardo in two of those three losses due to injury, which Austria said were minor ones.

“Hindi naman serious yung injuries nila, pero mas nakabuti na nagpahinga sila during the tune-up games for them to get ready when the tournament starts. Yun ang mas mahalaga,” he pointed out.

An elaborate opening ceremony precedes the game in which new league chairman Mikee Romero of Globalport will declare the new season open.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @gerardmos