By Jerome Lagunzad
(Smart Araneta Coliseum)
7 p.m. – Parade of teams
7:30 p.m. – Marikina vs General Santos City
9:30 p.m. – Muntinlupa vs Mandaluyong
Muntinlupa starts its road to redemption while three other new teams intend to make an immediate impact as the 2018 Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League Anta Datu Cup gets going tonight at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The Cagers, who finished bridesmaid to inaugural champion Batangas City Athletics, are determined to come up with a strong performance in their 9:30 p.m. showdown with the Mandaluyong El Tigre, bannered by former Gilas Pilipinas member and two-time UAAP MVP winner Ray Parks.
Heady playmaker Allan Mangahas, along with key holdovers Pari Llagas, Felix Apreku, Dave Moralde and former pro Chito Jaime, is back for another tour of duty while former San Sebastian guard Ryan Costelo makes his debut in the league organized by Sen. Manny Pacquiao with former PBA MVP Kenneth Duremdes as commissioner.
Bong Go, the Special Assistant to President Duterte, is also enlisted in Muntinlupa’s official roster and has earlier expressed his desire to suit up for the Cagers in the course of their title campaign in the second season of the fledging nationwide tournament.
Meanwhile, a short yet colorful opening rite will raise the curtains at 7 p.m., with all teams parading with their respective muses. A brand new car and 26 motorcycles are also at stake for lucky fans who will be chosen via raffle.
Clashing in what promises to be an intriguing opener at 7:30 p.m. are the Marikina Shoemasters and the General Santos City Warriors, the other two expansions squads in the expanded 26-team tournament.
The Shoemasters, under the tutelage of former Navotas tactician Elvis Tolentino, will lean on the likes of former pro Warren Ybanez, former Caloocan Supremos stalwart Ronald Roy and ex-Clutch standout Yves Sazon. Actor and model Gerald Anderson could also see action since he has been included in the official roster.
The Warriors, handled by mentor Jesus Pido, are also raring to set their own title bid in motion despite bringing in some less heralded players, with former Barangay Ginebra stalwart Marlon Basco emerging as the most notable of them all.
The El Tigre, considered as one of the top title favorites, will also try to live up to their lofty billing as coach Mac Cuan will also have the likes of former La Salle standout Prince Rivero and ex-Quezon City Capitals’ bruiser Gian Abrigo plus former Kia stalwart Josan Nimes and big man JR Alabanza at his disposal.