By JAY R. GOTERA
MANILA — The Philippines’ hardcourt heroes are back for another exciting conference with the opening of the 2017 PBA Commissioner’s Cup on Friday, March 17, less than three weeks after the San Miguel Beermen completed a three-peat by defeating the Barangay Ginebra Kings in the finals of the Philippine Cup, 4-1.
This time, imports will be beefing up the 12 teams that will compete for the title, which was won last season by the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters.
This season’s crop of imports is a mix of old and new mostly American talents, some of them former NBA players.
Last season’s Governors’ Cup hero Justin Brownlee is back with Ginebra, but this time he will have tougher competition since at 6’7” he will be the smallest import in a conference where there is no height limit for foreign reinforcements.
Last season’s scoring machine Eugene Phelps is also back for the Phoenix Fuel Masters as well as fellow scoring whiz James White for Mahindra Floodbuster.
Former Best Import awardee Wayne Chism is also back and will reunite with coach Yeng Guiao, but this time he will be suiting up for the NLEX Road Warriors and not for the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters.
Rain or Shine will be beefed up by former GlobalPort import Shawn Taggart.
The Star Hotshots have tapped a new face in the person of ex-Detroit Piston Tony Mitchell.
The Blackwater Elite will also be bolstered by a former NBA star: former Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks center Greg Smith.
The GlobalPort Batang Pier’s import is also a former NBA talent: Sean Williams, formerly with the New Jersey Nets.
The Alaska Aces will have Cory Jefferson for their import. Jefferson, who last played for the Austin Spurs in the NBA D-League, was a last-minute replacement for Octavius Ellis, who had to leave due to an urgent family matter.
The TNT KaTropa Texters are still looking for an import after team officials found former Best Import awardee Denzel Bowles “unfit” for the team. TNT dropped Bowles on Thursday, just a day before the Commissioner’s Cup is set to open, after he came in overweight.
Meanwhile, the San Miguel Beermen will be parading Charles Rhodes, an import from the Korean Basketball League.
The Meralco Bolts also selected their import, Alex Stepheson, from the same league.
Meanwhile, Blackwater suffered a major blow when it lost Art dela Cruz for the entire Commissioner’s Cup after the sophomore forward underwent surgery Tuesday to repair his ruptured Achilles which he suffered during the first day of Gilas Pilipinas’ three-day training camp.
Doctors projected a four-month recovery for one of Blackwater’s leading scorers.
Games Friday: Meralco Bolts vs. Mahindra Floodbuster and Rain or Shine Elasto Painters vs. NLEX Road Warriors.