The 12 competing teams seeing action in the 5th season of the PBA D-League each shared the very same sentiment – powerhouse Hapee Toothpaste is the team to beat in the Aspirants Cup that kicks off on Oct. 27 at the Ynares Arena in Pasig City.
Following the departure of champion franchises NLEX and Blackwater, the Fresh Fighters have easily emerged as the early favorite to win the season-opening conference owing to their star-studded lineup bannered by two-time UAAP MVP Bobby Ray Parks Jr., Gilas cadet Garvo Lanete, big man Arnold Van Opstal, rookie Chris Newsome, Ola Adeogun, and Baser Amer.
But assistant coach Benjie Paras was quick to downplay Hapee’s tag as title favorite, stressing what is on paper is entirely different from the playing court.
“Mahirap magsalita kasi hindi naman lahat nakukuha sa puro superstars,” said Paras in the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum on Tuesday at Shakey’s Malate, where he represented head coach Ronnie Magsanoc.
Nonetheless, not even Paras’ attempt for Hapee to be the underdog was not enough to convince team representatives who were also in attendance during the session presented by Shakey’s, Accel, and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.
Jack Santiago of Tanduay Light, Bong Ramos of Cebuana Lhuillier, Pablo Lucas of Wangs Basketball, Jun Tiongco of Café France, Eric Gonzales of MJM M-Builders, MP Hotel Warriors’ Arvin Bonleon, Jimmy Manansala of Racal Motors, Edwin Ancheta of AMA University, and Breadstory’s Emmerson Colina all mentioned Hapee as the likely team to beat.