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4:15 p.m. – Meralco vs Phoenix
7 p.m. – Mahindra vs Star
Vanguardia debuts as Phoenix Fuel coach.
A returning coach and a rookie mentor will make their debuts as action in the PBA resumes today with the start of the season-ending Governors’ Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Ariel Vanguardia, back after finding success overseas, leads Phoenix into battle against Meralco in the curtain raiser at 4:15 p.m. while unheralded Chris Gavina steers Mahindra against a retooled Star squad, with James Yap and Gilas Pilipinas’ Marc Pingris back as teammates, in the 7 p.m. nightcap.
Hoping to find the winning formula in only its second conference in the pro loop, Phoenix decided to let go of coach Koy Banal in place of Vanguardia, who in 2003 acted as an interim coach for Talk ‘N Text and a mentor of Jose Rizal University in the NCAA from 2006 to 2009.
Vanguardia’s stock boost last March when he finally guided the Westports Malaysia Dragons, the team he coached since 2012, to their first-ever ASEAN Basketball League championship with a five-game victory over the Singapore Slingers.
Mahindra, on the other hand, made a surprise move by hiring Gavino as the team’s lead assistant for playing coach Manny Pacquiao. He replaced Chito Victolero, who has been with the Enforcers since last season’s Commissioner’s Cup.
Vanguardia will inherit a team that made significant changes in the offseason following a 3-8 record in Phoenix’s maiden foray in the Commissioner’s Cup.
The Fuel Masters have tapped the services of rookies Simon Enciso, Norbert Torres and Mark Cruz, and veteran Cyrus Baguio, who on Wednesday was acquired from Alaska in exchange for two future second round picks.
Playing as imports for Phoenix are Marcus Simmons, a 2011 PAC-10 Defensive Player during his senior year at University of South Carolina, and Hee Lee-Kwan, a Korean who played for the Seoul Samsung Thunders of the Korean Basketball League.
As for Gavina, he will have in his disposal James White and Iranian guard Iman Zandi as reinforcements.