PLAYERS FROM the reigning National Athletic Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (NAASCU) champion Centro Escolar University Scorpions will make up the core of the Café France Bakers as they participate in the Philippine Basketball Association Developmental League Aspirants Cup that will open play on October 24, 2013 (Thursday) at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City. The Bakers will play the Cagayan Valley Rising Suns in the conference’s opening game immediately after the 1:00 PM opening ceremonies.
Coach of the Year Edgar Macaraya has tapped no less than NAASCU Most Valuable Player Joseph Sedurifa and exchange students Rodrigue Ebondo and Aristote Mutombo to join returning veterans Alvin Abundo, JP Magbitang, Ryan Batino and Samboy de Leon. Mutombo is the only one on the list from the back-to-back champion Junior Scorpions.
Reinforcing the Bakers are free agent guards Eliud Poligrates of Southwestern University and Christopher Exciminiano of Far Eastern University, who both ironically played for the Rising Suns in the previous conference the 2013 Foundation Cup. The team’s other new signing is center Mark Sarangay of Mapua Tech who transferred from the Cebuana Lhuillier Gems.
Completing the 14-man crew are guard Jens Knuttel of Far Eastern and the Mapua tandem of center Mike Parala and swingman Josan Nimes. Nimes is returning to the Bakers after sitting out two conferences due to injury, last seeing action in the 2012 Foundation Cup.
A concern for most teams this conference is the coming PBA Rookie Draft on November 3 where a lot of the league’s top players have applied for. Poligrates, Exciminiano and Knuttel are among the possible selections but Coach Macaraya has a pool of reserves just in case.
An all-time high of 14 teams will see action in the tournament where the top six after the single round robin elimination phase advance to the playoffs. Games will be played at the Ynares Sports Arena, JCSGO Gym, Blue Eagle Gym, Trinity University of Asia, Arellano University and San Juan Arena.
The Bakers will go all out for redemption. Last conference, the team flirted with making the playoffs until they lost their last four assignments to finish with a 5-6 win-loss card, good for Ninth Place in the then 12-team field.
The other teams entered this conference defending Aspirants Cup champion North Luzon Expressway, Cebuana Lhuillier, Cagayan Valley, Big Chill, Blackwater Sports, Air 21-Arellano University, Banco de Oro, Boracay Rum, Derulo Accelero, Hog’s Breath Café, Jumbo Plastic, Wang’s Basketball and Zambales M-Builders. Last conference, Blackwater Sports became the first team outside of NLEX to win a D-League championship, snapping the Road Warriors’ winning run of four conferences.
Aside from the regular tournament, a special three-on-three tournament will be simultaneously conducted among the 14 teams in between the day’s regular games. The Bakers will be represented by Magbitang, de Leon, Opiso and reserve guard Aaron Jeruta.
The Bakers are grouped with Cebuana Lhuillier, Wang’s Basketball and Zambales M-Builders in Group A. The top three of each the three groups will advance to the single-round semifinals with the top two playing for the championship.
Other NAASCU alumni seeing action for the other teams this conference are two-time MVP Jeff Alvin Viernes (Boracay Rum), Jam Jamito (Cagayan Valley) of Saint Clare, Maclean Sabellina (Boracay Rum) and Jerald Bautista of STI (Boracay Rum) and 2011 Rookie of the Year Jiovani Jalalon of Informatics (Air 21-Arellano)
The Aspirants Cup is expected to run until February of next year. Negotiations are still being conducted for its television coverage.