FIVE OF the nine participating teams in the coming PBA D-League Aspirants Cup will have tie-ups with established college varsity teams. One of the five is AMA Online Education which will be entering their third straight tournament with high hopes of bettering their past performances.
Based on his credentials, Coach Mark Herrera has had vast success handling age-groupers from elementary pupils to collegians. Now, he hopes to taste his first success in high level commercial basketball.
AMA made its PBA D-League debut in last year’s Aspirants Cup where they finished with a 3-8 win-loss card. However, the Titans scored a breakthrough in the ensuing Foundation Cup that saw them barge into the playoffs as the sixth seed only to lose out to the third seed Cagayan Rising Suns in overtime, 103-107.
Now, Coach Herrera has to make do without the materials that took the Titans far, retaining only La Salle’s Jarelan Tampus and AMA varsity player Jayson Jordan. Thus, fans will see a totally new-look AMA quintet.
All eyes will be on Julian Sargent, the second overall pick in the recent Rookie Draft out of La Salle. This early, the 6’3” swingman is expected to take the leadership mantle as he will be surrounded with veteran teammates who used to be role players in their respective squads plus a slew of fellow rookies.
Sargent was one of the surprises in the last draft as his name was never mentioned among the possible first selections. “He was the player we really wanted and we just kept our plans secret up to draft day,” said Coach Herrera who also doubles as AMA’s Athletics Director.
Leading the veteran recruits is forward Mark Romero, who split time last season with Racal Motors and Hapee Toothpaste and is expected to carry the team together with Sargent. Joining Romero will be forward Bobby Balucanag, center Ivan Hernandez and guard Ryan Arambulo.
Balucanag actually played for AMA in the Aspirants Cup but transferred to LiverMarin to join his schoolmates at San Sebastian College for the Foundation Cup. Despite their previous stints, Arambulo (Wang’s) and Hernandez (Cagayan) will form part of the required varsity component of the squad since they have enrolled at the university.
Aside from Jordan, Arambulo and Hernandez, the other incumbent varsity players are rookies Paul Jerome Carpio and Milo Castro with one spot left for the sixth required player. Coach Herrera also selected Perpetual Help gunner Gabriel Dagangon in the third round then signed his teammate center Ric Gallardo who went undrafted.
As observed last season, the AMA varsity players acted more like cheerleaders as the coaching staff relied on a very shallow rotation. That will definitely not be the case this year.
Assisting Coach Herrera will be Benjie Diswe, Edwin Ancheta, Eugene Bautista and Gener Lahoy. The team would also like to thank the generous support of AMA owners Dr. Amable R. Aguiluz V and Dr. Amable C. Aguiluz IX and Senior Vice President and team manager Engr. Arnel Hibo.
Replacing certified scoring machines like James Martinez and Jerramy King and a rebounding monster in Jay-R Taganas is a very tough task. Coach Herrera will have to summon his skills of developing young players from scratch for AMA to make noise.
Aside from the Titans, other teams with links to schools are JAM Liner-UP, Banco de Oro-National and Phoenix Petroleum-FEU from the UAAP and recent Foundation Cup winner CafeFrance-CEU of the NAASCU. School-based squads are required to have at least six varsity-eligible players but have to raise the number to 10 if they wish to field one foreign student athlete.
The 2016 PBA D-League Aspirants Cup will commence on January 21, 2016 (Thursday) at the San Juan Arena. Completing the nine-team cast are Caida Tiles, Tanduay Rhum, Mindanao Aguilas and Wang’s Basketball.