After two exhilarating conferences won by the San Miguel Beermen, it’s time for the third and final tournament of the 2019 PBA season.
NBA caliber imports Terrence Jones and Chris McCullough brought world class talents to the Philippine shores in the recently concluded Commissioner’s Cup. Now, a new batch of highly skilled reinforcements will look to introduce themselves to the Filipino masses, while some familiar faces return to handle some unfinished business.
FOX Sports Philippines lists down each team’s confirmed imports for the season-ending tourney.
For the second straight conference the TNT Katropa once again snagged the biggest name so far, going with another former NBA player in KJ McDaniels. The 26-year-old high-leaper, who coincidentally was teammates with Jones with the Houston Rockets, will look to finally help the Katropa get over the hump after a runner-up finish in the Comm’s Cup.
An athletic freak known for his breathtaking dunks and defensive tenacity, McDaniels suited up for the Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets, averaging 5.3 points and 2.2 rebounds in 148 regular season games.
Speaking of high-profile imports, San Miguel also fortified its bid for a grandslam by acquiring the services of Dez Wells. At 27 years old, the 6’5 Wells has already built quite the resume in the NBA G-League with the Oklahoma City Blue. He also suited up overseas, playing for Doxa Lefkadas B.C. in Greece and serving two tours of duty for the S.S. Felice Scandone and U.S. Victoria Libertas Pallacanestro in the Italian Basketball league.
Cellar dwellers Columbian Dyip, meanwhile, opted to go for the lesser known Khapri Alston. After discovering a gem in another unknown import Lester Prosper last conference, head coach John Cardel hopes this gamble will finally translate to more wins in the upcoming season.
After four years playing for Midwestern State University, Alston took his act to Europe and left quite an impression for the teams he played for in Chile, Uruguay and Switzerland.
Last year’s Best Import of the Conference Mike Harris was expected to return for the Aces this conference, but a change in leadership also prompted a change of heart for the Fred Uytengsu-owned franchise.
Branden Dawson was initially tapped as Alaska’s reinforcement but was deemed ineligible after going over the 6’5 height limit rule for this conference. Enter Justin Watts, a proven reinforcement who has been playing overseas since 2013. Having won a US NCAA title with the University of North Carolina Tar Heels in his freshman year, the 29-year-old Watts is well-rounded wing player with a penchant to set his teammates up for good looks.
He’s had playing stints in Mexico, Japan, Uruguay, the Netherlands, Qatar, Lithuania and Switzerland. Watts is coming off a successful campaign with the Wilki Morskie Szczecin team in the Polish league.
Team chemistry is one of the most underrated aspects for a championship team, which is why most PBA squads opt to field a resident import who has developed familiarity with the system.
It comes as no surprise that Ginebra will be bringing back Justin Brownlee for the seventh consecutive import-laden conference. A regular in coach Tim Cone’s rotation since his PBA debut in 2016, Brownlee has accumulated three PBA titles, one Best Import of the Conference award, and may go down as one of the best PBA imports of all time when it’s all said and done.
JB was beyond spectacular last conference, resetting his career-high on multiple occasions and tallying 35.9 points and 13.6 rebounds.
Another familiar face set to make his PBA return is the hulking Allen Durham for the Meralco Bolts. Coach Norman Black’s team fares better during import-led conferences and much of the team’s success comes when the unforgiving workhorse is reinforcing the middle.
The two-time BIC winner brings a no-frills approach to the game, willing his team to the finals in 2016 and 2017. Durham was also the driving force in the Bolts’ impressive winning streak in last year’s Governors’ Cup, carrying his team all the way to the semis after barely making it to the postseason.
An old adage says familiarity breeds contempt, but the Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok has nothing but love for Romeo Travis. Although he is getting up there in age at 35 years old, Magnolia still believes in the lethal lefty’s well-rounded skillset and championship pedigree.
Even after dealing with multiple injuries in last year’s Govs’ Cup, LeBron James’ high school teammate still delivered for Magnolia and led the team to the championship, ousting the Alaska Aces in six hard-fought games.
As far as sheer dominance goes, Eugene Phelps has been nothing short of unstoppable during his three stints with the Fuel Masters. Although the “Tatted Beast” has yet to lead Phoenix past the quarterfinals, his continued relationship with the franchise may very well translate to more success in the upcoming tournament.
Phelps averaged monstrous numbers of 32.4 points and 18.7 boards in his first three PBA stints.
Olu Ashaolu seems tailor fit for coach Yeng Guiao’s system with the NLEX Road Warriors, but an unfortunate injury halted what could have been a match made in heaven pairing.
After underwhelming performances in the Philippine and Commissioner’s Cup, NLEX will try to salvage some pride in the season ending tourney — especially with Kiefer Ravena also back in the fold. Ashaolu is fully recovered from the injury he sustained in last year’s Governors’ Cup and even got a chance to get his rhythm earlier by joining NLEX in their last three games of the Comm’s Cup.
With first choice import Aaron Fuller’s status still uncertain after an ankle injury, Blackwater opted to go with proven PBA import Marqus Blakely to reinforce them in the ongoing Terrific 12 tournament and possibly in the early part of the Governors’ Cup.
No stranger to PBA fans, the 6’4 athletic specimen won two titles under the Star/Magnolia banner and even won the Best Import of the Conference plum back in 2013. After battling several injuries, Blakely made his return to the PBA last season as a replacement import for the TNT Katropa, where he racked up averages of 23.0 points, 9.8 rebounds 6.6 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.2 blocks in just five games. TNT, however, failed to make it to the playoffs that year, and Blakely will look to avoid the same fate with the Elite this conference.
Following the trend of old imports suiting up for new PBA teams, Mychal Ammonds will bring in the experience he acquired from the TNT Katropa to his new gig with NorthPort Batang Pier.
Initially brought in as a replacement import for Mario Little by TNT in 2006, Ammonds helped his team to the top seed of the 2016 Govs’ Cup eliminations but failed to lead them past the semis.
The now 27-year-old import has since padded up his international resume with appearances for Estudiantes Concordia, BK, Levicki Patrioti, Garra Canera de Navolato, Al Gharafa Doha, Laguneros de La Comarca, and the Tijuana Zonkeys.
Another “balik-import” looking for a better performance this time around is Joel Wright. After a rather forgettable stint with the Magnolia (then Star) Hotshots in 2016, the 29-year-old forward will get another chance with the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters.
The Texas State standout had big shoes to fill after replacing Marqus Blakely in his first PBA foray. The team struggled mightily under his watch, as they only won one of the eight games he played in. Still, RoS believes that Wright might just be the import for them in this year’s season-ending tourney, especially if he displays the same aggressiveness he displayed with the Iowa Energy in the NBA G-League.
(Photos from Getty Images/PBA)