By JONAS TERRADO
San Agustin Gym)
6:30 p.m. – Visayas vs Smart
ILOILO CITY – The PBA All-Star Week concludes its hectic three-leg festivities tonight with two of the league’s most popular players seeing action for the first time in this bustling Western Visayas city that holds a special place in their hearts.
Rain or Shine veteran James Yap and NLEX rookie Kiefer Ravena look to dazzle their fellow Ilonggos when they lead a crack Visayas All-Star team to battle against the Smart All-Star squad in the contest set 6:30 p.m. at the University of San Agustin gym.
Despite calling Escalante, Negros Occidental home, Yap was a top high school standout at Hua Siong College of Iloilo 18 years ago before embarking on a career that made him one of the biggest names in Philippine basketball history.
Yap, who two days ago won the Three-point shootout in Batangas City, has never played a PBA game here despite his top billing.
“Excited ako kasi last time ko na maglaro dito is nung 2000 pa so ilang years ago na,” Yap said. “Excited ako na makita yung mga kaibigan ko pati mga dati kong teammates dito.”
Ravena, meanwhile, was born in this city in 1993 and had made himself familiar with the surroundings despite spending most of his time in Manila carving his name in the amateur and international ranks.
The top Rookie of the Year candidate was among those who received a rock star welcome upon the PBA delegation’s arrival at the airport while being greeted by his grandmother, who works for the city government, during a courtesy call with Mayor Jose Espinosa III at the Iloilo City Hall.
“Very passionate ang mga Ilonggo pagdating sa basketball. It’s one of the places na marami silang nadedevelop na players,” said Ravena. “Playing in front of them, hopefully, would inspire them and gives us an opportunity to give back.”
Yap and Ravena will be joined in the Visayas team by San Miguel’s June Mar Fajardo and Chris Ross, TNT KaTropa’s Terrence Romeo and Jericho Cruz, NLEX’s JR Quiñahan, Asi Taulava and Emman Monfort, Phoenix’s Jeff Chan, Columbian’s Ronald Tubid and Barangay Ginebra’s Greg Slaughter.
Cruz, Monfort, Chan and Tubid are also some of the Ilonggos playing in the event presented by Phoenix Fuel with Phoenix Pulse Technology and backed by Peak Sports Apparel, Molten, PBA Rush-Cignal, Nature’s Spring, TAGHeuer, Gatorade, and Rain or Shine.
Romeo, meanwhile, was named All-Star Most Valuable Player in the Batangas City leg after scoring a record 48 points in Smart’s 152-149 over the Luzon selection.
Composing the Smart lineup, composed of Gilas Pilipinas members, are Ginebra’s Japeth Aguilar, Blackwater’s Mac Belo, TNT’s Troy Rosario, Phoenix’s Matthew Wright, Rain or Shine’s Gabe Norwood, TNT’s Roger Pogoy, Magnolia’s Jio Jalalon, TNT’s Jayson Castro, Blackwater’s Allein Maliksi and Alaska’s Calvin Abueva.
TNT’s Nash Racela will coach the Smart team while Magnolia’s Chito Victolero calls the shots for the Visayas selection.