MANILA, August 28, 2003 (MALAYA) A festive atmosphere, cool, refreshing air and a fresh replenishment of new faces give the PBA a reinvigorating feeling when the league opens its Reinforced Conference on Saturday in Baguio City.

Red Bull and FedEx, major contenders in the season's first two tournaments, meet at the Eastern College gym to highlight the first conference in the league's 29-year history to open outside Metro Manila.

Coinciding with festivities marking the most special day in Baguio City's calendar, PBA commissioner Noli Eala said the event also serves as a celebration of the nation's passion for basketball that has fuelled the league's success over the years.

The league has prepared a brief but festive ceremony at the country's summer hideaway while NBN-IBC will hook up with stations in Cebu City and Metro Manila in a presentation an hour before game time.

"This day we'll celebrate the nation's undying passion for basketball." Eala said. "That we've brought the opening of our third conference to Baguio City is our appreciation of the fact that the league continues to be a national passion."

The arrival of a new batch of imports, seven of them fresh faces, is expected to spice up the season-ending tournament and throw the championship race wide open.

The Reinforced Conference in itself, returning to the league calendar after an absence of 14 years, had long been a venue for momentous events. The last time it was held in 1989, San Miguel Beer, mentored by Norman Black, won to complete only the third grand slam in PBA history.

The tournament will be a fresh start in more ways than one for Red Bull, which welcomes back top big man Davonn Harp into its fold and parades a full complement of players for the first time since the early part of the All-Filipino.

Ramel Lloyd, a Syracuse product and a veteran of the Venezuelan league, will beef up the Thunder while reinstated guard Jimwell Torion and free agent signee Topex Robinson add depth to the team's backcourt.

FedEx has surpassed expectations in the year's first two tournaments.

The import-flavored conference returns to the metropolis on Sunday with a twinbill at the Astrodome pitting All-Filipino champion Talk N Text against Shell and San Miguel against Barangay Ginebra.

Shell has brought back high-scoring Sedric Webber to pump life into its campaign while Talk N Text has tapped Damian Cantrell. The day's other game will pit Kirk Clark (San Miguel) against ex-Duke mainstay Rick Price.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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