MANILA, Philippines—After a long hiatus, the PBA D-League returns with the Aspirants Cup tipping off on Thursday.
The developmental league had been shelved the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eight teams will compete in the season-opening conference with Wangs Basketball-Letran and Adalem Construction-St. Clare raising the curtain at 10:30 a.m. before the CEU Scorpions and AMA Online clash at 12:30 p.m. at Araneta Coliseum.
Letran, Eco Oil-La Salle and St. Clare have been deemed as teams to beat.
“Those teams (Letran and La Salle) are intact and they play in leagues with high-level competition,” said St. Clare coach Jinino Manansala in Filipino during the PSA Forum on Tuesday.
“But in fairness of course to the other teams, they will also put up a good fight. We did not join here just to run around,” added Manansala, whose Saints just won a fifth straight NAASCU title.
La Salle, which made the Final Four in UAAP Season 84 before losing to eventual champion University of the Philippines, will field a rookie-laden squad with the likes Evan Nelle, Deschon Wilson and Mark Nonoy not joining.
“We’re really focusing on our team development and we’ll try to absorb every experience we can get in this tournament knowing the level of competition in the D-League is high,” said La Salle deputy Gian Nazario.
Builders Warehouse-UST, Apex Fuel-San Sebastian and Marinerong Pilipinas complete the participating teams.
PBA deputy commissioner Eric Castro said the six best teams after the single round eliminations advance to the next round with the top two squads gaining outright semifinals berths.
Teams ranked third to sixth play in the quarterfinals with the third and fourth seeds owning a twice-to-beat advantage.
Games will be played Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday either at Ynares Arena in Pasig or Araneta Coliseum although two game days have been scheduled on Wednesday (July 27 and August 3).
Admission is free provided but Castro said those who intend to watch will have to bring proof of their vaccination cards.