TIM Cone has seen too much of Alaska in the offseason to know his San Mig Coffee team will have its hands full against his former club when they make their PBA Philippine Cup debut on Friday night.
“They (Aces) beat us twice in the preseason. And they did that without Sonny (Thoss) and (rookie) Calvin (Abueva),” said Cone, pointing to the pair of tune-up games the two sides played in the offseason - one of which never got to be finished due to a dispute over a referee's call.
Alaska, surprisingly, made the biggest gains in an offseason that saw the team give up its best player, LA Tenorio. The man who took Tenorio's place, JVee Casio, has since been surrounded with enough talent like Dondon Hontiveros, Cyrus Baguio, Mac Baracael, Tony dela Cruz, Nic Belasco, and Eddie Laure.
The rejigged team played well enough together to make the Aces the most impressive team in the preseason, raising hope that the Uytengsu franchise can turn things around quickly after one of the most disappointing seasons in the fabled club's long history.
“JVee is a fit for the team. He opens the court for them because he gets a lot of screens and movements that allows him to shoot,” said Cone.
Cone's team will be without JC Intal and Joe DeVance and possibly Marc Pingris as well. The San Mig starting forward injured an ankle two weeks ago and remains doubtful for the team's season debut.
But what remains of Cone's lineup is still formidable. James Yap, PJ Simon and Yancy de Ocampo banner a team that reached the Finals twice last season and will be looking to atone for their meltdown in the Philippine up, where it made the playoffs as the top seed only to lose to Powerade in the quarterfinals.
Rookies Aldrech Ramos and Jewel Ponferrada are the only key additions to the team this season.
Meanwhile, Talk ‘N Text begins its title-retention bid with a game against new-look sister team Meralco squad at 5:15 p.m. at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The Tropang Texters are a team in transition as former consultant Norman Black assumed the head-coaching duties as erstwhile mentor Chot Reyes is now full-time coach of the Smart Gilas 2.0 national team.
However, Talk ‘N Text’s assistant coach Nash Racela will be calling the shots for the time being as Black is still finishing his coaching duties with Ateneo in the UAAP.
The Tropang Texters didn’t make any roster movement during the offseason. And while Racela will be the one coaching the team, he’ll simply be implementing Black’s style of play that is geared more on defense.
TNT’s approach contrasts Meralco’s free-flowing style which coach Ryan Gregorio has put in place starting this season.
Gregorio said the team’s new system fits his two-guard scoring combo of Solomon Mercado and Mark Cardona.
“Sol is fantastic in this kind of offense. He can break down the defense and get into the scoring rack anytime along with Mac (Cardona),” said Gregorio.
Meralco recently lost Taulava to the ABL (Asean Basketball League), leaving Fil-Am rookie forward Cliff Hodge, Jay-R Reyes and Reynel Hugnatan to battle the Texters' big men, led by Smart Gilas 2.0 national mainstay Ranidel de Ocampo, Kelly Williams, Ali Peek, and Harvey Carey.