This early, three teams are emerging as favorites to snare the 2017 PBA D-League Aspirants’ Cup title.
Cafe France, Tanduay, and Racal all pose legitimate cases in winning the plum after retooling with big names in the offseason.
The Bakers will still enjoy their Centro Escolar U core led by Congolese big man Rod Ebondo, as well as guards Aaron Jeruta and JK Casino.
But coach Egay Macaraya didn’t hold back in constructing a championship-contending crew, adding UP scorer Paul Desiderio, San Sebastian forward Michael Calisaan, and UST big man Jeepy Faundo to his side as he seeks to atone for last year’s bridesmaid finish.
Rhum Masters coach Lawrence Chongson also did the same, overhauling his veteran core as he placed diminutive guard Mark Cruz as the team’s cornerstone.
Joining him in the roster are former Letran teammates Jom Sollano and Bong Quinto, comebacking Louie Vigil, and UP winger Dave Moralde.
Tanduay is also the lone team this conference which took advantage of the new ruling which allows at least two ex-PBA players over the age of 30 to beef up a squad with the signing of 34-year-old big man Angelus Raymundo.
Racal, meanwhile, will be parading a new core under coach Jerry Codinera as he brings Arellano stalwarts Kent Salado, Lervin Flores, and Donald Gumaru to the squad in hopes of finally breaking out of the semifinals.
They will join holdovers Rey Nambatac, Jackson Corpuz, and new recruits Allan Mangahas and Sidney Onwubere in the Ceramica lineup.
Away from the three, the rest of the field also pose a threat to make a surprising deep run this conference.
AMA Online Education will be parading this season’s top pick Jeron Teng on its roster, as he will be paired with double-double machine Jay-R Taganas, and promising guards Diego Dario, Ryan Arambulo, and Juami Tiongson.
Cignal-San Beda will also try to reclaim its old glory in the PBA D-League with seven-time champion coach Boyet Fernandez back in the fray. Javee Mocon, Davon Potts, and Robert Bolick will lead the squad, which will also parade FEU playmaker Monbert Arong and former Perpetual forward Harold Arboleda.
Jose Rizal University will be banking on its chemistry, with coach Vergel Menses entrusting the leadership role to Tey Teodoro, Paolo Pontejos, and Ervin Grospe.
Coach Eric Gonzales is also eyeing to bring his championship pedigree with Batangas, as he banks on Dan Sara and CJ Isit to lead the battle.
Victoria Sports-MLQU also poses a sense of intrigue with Ryusei Koga, Zach Nicholls, and Fil-Am Robbie Herndon bannering the crew.
Wangs Basketball remains as an underdog, but will be looking to nab a few stunners behind Allen Enriquez, Rey Publico, and Mark Juruena.
Guest team Blustar Detergent returns this conference with Tristan Perez backing up the all-Malaysian side led by Kwaan Yoong Jing.
The 2017 PBA D-League Aspirants’ Cup opens on January 19 at Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig.
The customary opening ceremonies will first be held at 2 p.m., before the Teng-led AMA Online Education clash against upstart Batangas at 3 p.m.
Action continues the following week, with guest team Blustar Detergent-Malaysia and contender Racal locking horns at 3 p.m. on January 23, Monday, followed by the duel between last season’s runners-up Cafe France and Tanduay at 5 p.m.
Jose Rizal University makes its season debut on January 24, Tuesday, against Blustar at 3 p.m., before Cignal-San Beda goes up against AMA at 5 p.m.
Victoria Sports-MLQU and Wangs Basketball play their first game against each other to wrap up the opening week on January 26, Thursday, at 5 p.m.
Other marquee matchups for the conference include the coaching battle between champion mentors Macaraya and Fernandez when Cafe France plays Cignal on January 30, top picks Teng and Jom Sollano clashing when AMA takes on Racal on February 2, a rematch of last conference’s semifinals tiff between Racal and Tanduay on February 14, and a reunion of last year’s NCAA finalists when San Beda-backed Cignal faces a Racal team bannered by Arellano standouts on March 13.
Four teams will be eliminated after the elimination phase, with the top two gaining outright semifinals berth while the middle teams battling in the quarterfinals.
The semifinals and Finals will both be contested in a best-of-3 series.