January 15, 2019

FOUR  more teams --Blackwater, NorthPort, Phoenix and Meralco --make their much-awaited debuts  today  as the 2019 PBA Philippine Cup returns to Araneta Coliseum following a successful  opening in Bulacan last Sunday.

Blackwater,  buoyed by its franchise-best sixth place finish in the Governors’ Cup last month, and  NorthPort, ever so eager to make its  mark following a disappointing showing, take the floor in the first game at 4:30 p.m.

Later, Phoenix and Meralco square off  in the featured encounter at 7 p.m.

“Tomorrow’s game (today’s game vs. Northport) is crucial because it will be a test for our team,” said  Blackwater coach Bong Ramos.

“We will see on what level are we at this stage after our off-season preparation,” added Ramos, who expressed confidence despite losing  three key mainstays in JP  Erram, John Pinto and Paul Zamar.

Erram has been traded to NLEX, Zamar to San Miguel Beer and Pinto, after refusing a new contract, eventually found his way to Meralco.

In  their  place are Paul Desiderio and Abu Tratter, who were  acquired  in  the Erram trade, and  fellow rookie Diego Dario, plus free  agent Gelo Alolino and Joseph Eriobu.

NorthPort is ready.

“The team is ready to compete,” said Batang Pier coach Pido Jarencio, who  hopes to get the most  from  his team  now that  Stanley Pringle, the  league’s scoring champion last season, and Sean Anthony are both healthy.

“We just need to get a good start to get us going.”

Jarencio and team manager Bonnie Tan decided to keep the line-up intact, adding only Robert Bolick and free agent Jomari Sollano in  their lineup  that wound up seventh in the same season-opening tournament last year. 

The Bolts expect a better showing because of a healthy lineup while  the Fuel Masters believe they can break through with a roster beefed up by trade acquisitions Alex Mallari and Dave Marcelo plus rookie draftee Ron Marvis Dennison.

“We're healthy for the first time  in four years. It's interesting to see how we start  this conference and play the entire tourney where we put our best players on the floor,|”said Meralco coach Norman Black.

“Our rotation is  now deeper. We have a better core group and    |Matthew Wright will be there,” said coach Louie Alas.

“The initial goal is to make the playoffs,” added Alas.