MANILA, August 30, 2003 (MALAYA) One of FedEx's main concerns is over. Now begins another.

The Express try to use the momentum of a third place finish in the recent Invitational Cup when they take on an invigorated Red Bull Barako crew today in the historic opening of the PBA Reinforced Conference at the Eastern College gym in Baguio City.

FedEx heaved a big sigh of relief when replacement import Terrence Shannon passed the official measurement yesterday. Listed as 6-foot-8, Shannon turned out to be a mere 6-foot-4 15/16, well within the 6-foot-5 maximum ceiling for imports in the season-ending tournament.

The 22-year-old American, who comes fresh from stints in both the Miami Heat and New Orleans Hornets summer camps, should be a big boost to the Express who are bidding to do better than their third place finish in the Invitationals.

"He's practiced with us and he's in condition," said coach Derick Pumaren of Shannon. "He's very energetic. It's difficult to assess just how good he is after just one practice. But we're hoping that he can give us the needed push to go all the way."

"Of course, iyun lang third place malaki nang achievement," added Pumaren, who arrived in Baguio City from Manila with the rest of the team just before noon yesterday.

"Pero if we could surpass that, so much the better."

Pumaren, however, readily admitted the task is easier said than done, specially against Red Bull which will parade a roster beefed up by the return of forward Davonn Harp and the acquisition of another point guard in Topex Robinson, a free agent signee.

"Iyun ngang wala si Harp, hirap na hirap na kami sa Red Bull. Di lalo pa ngayong nandiyan na uli siya," said Pumaren of the 6-foot-8 forward who was suspended after testing positive for illegal drugs last May.

Robinson is a defense-oriented playmaker inserted into the line-up after Vince Hizon was placed on the reserve list.

Ramel Lloyd, a Syracuse product and a veteran of the Venezuelan league, will beef up Red Bull. But Thunder coach Yeng Guiao believes it is still Harp who could spell the big difference in their campaign.

"Malaking bagay ang pagbabalik ni Vonn. Kailangan talaga namin ng big man," he said.

Lloyd, standing at 6-foot-4, played college basketball at Long Beach State University 1998-2001. The 230-lb bruiser has also traveled extensively as an import. His latest stop was for the Venezuelan team Guiteros before arriving in the country two weeks ago.

"We have a lot of talent in our team," said Lloyd of Red Bull team. "I don't have to do everything. I just want to help my team. My job is to do my best to help in whatever department I am needed."

The opening clash in the country's summer hideaway marks the first time in the league's 29-year history that a tournament unfolds outside of Metro Manila.

League officials have prepared an hour-long, pre-game festive ceremony highlighted by television coveror NBN-IBC hooking up with stations in Cebu City and Metro Manila.

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

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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