Games Today (Mall of Asia Arena)
4:15 p.m. – Kia vs Globalport
7 p.m. – Barangay Ginebra vs Meralco
Something more than just desire for an opening day victory will spice up the featured game today when the PBA Commissioner’s Cup fires off at the Mall of Asia Arena, with Barangay Ginebra San Miguel import Michael Dunigan right in the middle of hostilities.
The 6-foot-8 Dunigan, a tireless scorer and rebounder who played for the Air21 Express in 2013, will suit up for the Kings at 7 p.m. against the Meralco Bolts, who were reportedly close to signing up the former University of Oregon center until Ginebra came into the picture.
A source said Bolts coach Norman Black and team manager Paolo Trillo flew to the States a few weeks ago to woo Dunigan and had scheduled a dinner with the 25-year-old Chicago native and his mother to make their partnership official, but things went awry.
As it turned out and apparently unknown to the Bolts, Dunigan was also in the import radar of Ginebra which found a way somehow, the source said, to get to Dunigan and spirit him away.
Dunigan arrived a few days ago and immediately joined the Kings in practice under comebacking coach Ato Agustin, who took over from Jeffrey Cariaso after Ginebra failed to make it past the quarterfinals of the recent PBA Philippine Cup.
Black and Trillo didn’t come home empty-handed, snaring former San Diego State star Josh Davis, a 6-foot-7 forward and reported lookalike and play-alike of the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard.
Cut by the Spurs last in the current NBA season, Davis averaged 10.1 rebounds and 7.7 points in one year at San Diego State before joining Charlotte in the NBA Summer League where he averaged 8.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.
Whether he is an acceptable second choice for Dunigan will be the main subject of interest tonight as the two teams clash for the first time since their elimination round encounter last conference which Meralco won, 109-99.
This also marks Agustin’s return to the head coaching post as he gradually steers the Kings away from the triangle offense installed by Cariaso over two conferences and back to their preferred run-and-gun style.
“Josh Davis has begun practicing with the team and is starting to fit in with the locals,” said Black. “We will be undersized again this conference because Davis is only six-seven. But his energy level will have us in there fighting. Our main concern against Ginebra will focus on our interior defense and ability to get the defensive rebound.”
Meanwhile, the curtainraiser at 4:15 p.m. matches Manny Pacquiao’s Kia Carnival (formerly Sorento) with the Globalport Batang Pier, two teams that figured in pre-conference tuneup fights, along with Barangay Ginebra, Barako Bull, Rain or Shine and Purefoods.
Kia, reinforced by 7-foot-4 Puerto Rican PJ Ramos, a 2nd round draft pick of the Washington Wizards in 2004, got into a near-brawl with the Barako Bull Energy and Fil-Am Dorian Pena during their scrimmage, while Globalport’s Terrence Romeo exchanged punches with Ginebra’s Chris Monfort in theirs. Heavy fines were imposed by the Office of the Commissioner in the aftermath.
It is yet unconfirmed if Pacquiao will be present in Kia’s second conference debut, but former University of the Philippines and Ateneo coach Joe Lipa will reportedly reprise his role as team consultant, a position he held briefly with Globalport.
The Batang Pier will be parading 6-foot-9 CJ Leslie, who played college at North Carolina State and signed a partially guaranteed contract with the New York Knicks in 2013 before getting waived. Leslie was brought in as a substitute for NBA D-Leaguer Rod Benson who failed to make the height limit set by the league for Globalport.
Present in today’s inaugural games is a three-man FIBA Evaluation Commission which arrived Monday to inspect venues, including the MOA Arena, and assess the country’s capability to host the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Admission to the MOA Arena’s bleacher section is free to the public.
Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay will host the next two playdates on Wednesday and Friday, with defending champion Purefoods battling Globalport on Jan. 30, while Sunday’s matches will be in Binan. Laguna. Action returns to the Smart Araneta Coliseum on Feb. 3, with Philippine Cup finalist Alaska taking the floor against Purefoods.
San Miguel Beer, which won an epic seven-game Finals against Alaska, will make its first appearance the following day against Kia Carnival.