THEY MAY have been the ninth and last team to confirm their entry but they could end up on top of the 2016 PBA D-League Aspirants Cup. Phoenix Petroleum has partnered with reigning UAAP champion and PCCL co-champion Far Eastern University in a move that could shake the overall title race.
No less than 10 members of the championship-winning teams will be tasked to carry on their winning tradition namely Mac Belo, Mike Tolomia, Ron Dennison, Joel Lee Yu, Raymar Jose, Roger Pogoy, Francis Tamsi, Achie Inigo and brothers Russel and Richard Escoto. Reinforcing the team will be guard Ed Daquioag from the University of Santo Tomas and center Seraj Elmejrab of Lyceum.
FEU head coach Nash Racela will assume the role of team consultant and hand over the reins to his long-time deputy Coach Eric Gonzales. The staff will be composed of Richie Ticzon, Gilbert Lao, Ryan Betia and Jonathan de Guzman.
“We have had a long relationship with Phoenix Petroleum so we are just taking it to the next level,” explained Coach Racela. “The Phoenix logo has been on the FEU jersey for several years already.”
Despite having more than the required number of varsity-eligible players for school-based teams, FEU will be unable to field foreign student Prince Orizu. The hulking 6’8” Nigerian rookie center has yet to complete the UAAP-required two seasons before plunging into commercial basketball.
Last season, the Tamaraws played in the Aspirants Cup as the MJM M-Builders. The team also featured recruits from the then UAAP champion National University and compiled a 3-8 win-loss card.
Aside from the M-Builders, FEU had another tie-up with Fruitas in the 2013 Foundation Cup. The Shakers tallied a 7-4 record to make the playoffs as the fourth seed only to drop two games in a row against fifth seed Big Chill in the opening round, 72-77 and 83-89 in overtime.
Belo, Tolomia, Dennison, Jose, Pogoy and Inigo saw action for the M-Builders while Russel Escoto and Tolomia are the only remnants from the Shakers. In the D-League Rookie Draft last month, Phoenix exercised their picks on Tamsi and Richard Escoto and then passed.
Reinforcement Daquioag proved to be a major thorn for FEU in the last UAAP championship series. He returns to the D-League after last seeing action for Bread Story-Lyceum in the 2014-2015 Aspirants Cup.
For sure, the team’s entry into the D-League has rekindled the possibility of establishing a team in the PBA. Phoenix has long been applying for PBA membership either as an expansion franchise or via the purchase of an existing one.
As of now, the task at hand is to capture another trophy. It will also be a fitting swan song for the team’s seniors before taking a shot at the PBA Rookie Draft later this year.
Phoenix Petroleum opens its bid against Wang’s Basketball on January 25 (Monday) at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City starting at 4:00 PM. Other teams seeing action in the Aspirants Cup are CafeFrance-CEU, Banco de Oro-NU, QRS JAM Liner-UP, AMA Online Education, Tanduay Rhum, Mindanao Aguilas and Caida Tiles.