MANILA, December 12, 2003  (STAR) Six cagers vie for the Most Valuable Player trophy when the Philippine Basketball Association holds the Leo Prieto Awards, its annual ceremonies honoring the best and brightest of the year slated Monday night at the Music Museum.

Coca-Cola’s Rudy Hatfield, Jeffrey Cariaso and Rafi Reavis, Asi Taulava and Jimmy Alapag of Talk n Text and Alaska forward Ali Peek are in the hunt for the coveted award in one of the most wide-open races for the league’s highest individual honor.

Hatfield, the leader at the close of the statistical points race, Cariaso and Reavis led Coke to three finals appearances this season while the 6-foot-9 Taulava and Alapag combined to give Talk n Text its championship in the first conference.

Peek automatically made it to the MVP candidates list after winning best player of the conference honors in the mid-season Invitationals, which Alaska ruled.

Also to be given in the awards ceremonies named in honor of PBA founding commissioner Leo Prieto are spots in the Mythical and All-Defensive teams as well as the rookie of the year, most improved player and sportsmanship citations.

Three new awards have been included in the roll — Darling of the Media, Mr. Energy and the Gawad Emerson Coseteng plum — which will go to the individual who made significant contributions to the growth of Asia’s first professional cage league.

The First Gentleman Sportsman of the Year will also be handed to the player who made a significant contribution during the league’s outreach program.

Aside from the trophy, the winner among the 12 candidates will also received P100,000.

"This gathering will not only honor the best players of the season, but it will also pay homage to the men who helped make the league what it is now," said commissioner Noli Eala.

Sen. Robert Jaworski and former Sen. Nikki Coseteng, who will personally hand out the Gawad Coseteng award, head the guest list in the event. That will be spiced up by special numbers and the presence of celebrity guests from the showbiz world.

Alapag, being an MVP candidate, also has the inside track on the rookie award-where he will be challenged by Alaska’s Mike Cortez and TNT teammate Harvey Carey-as well as a point guard spot in the Mythical first and second teams.

The Most Improved citation is a toss-up among Shell’s Anthony dela Cruz, San Miguel Beer’s Joey Mente, Purefoods’ Kerby Raymundo and Reavis while the Sportsmanship award will be contested by Purefoods’ Noy Castillo, SMB’s Olsen Racela, TNT’s Patrick Fran,

Sta. Lucia’s Gerald Francisco and dela Cruz.

Aside from the MVP candidates, lined up for spots in the Mythical teams are Johnny Abarientos and Ato Morano of Coke at point guard, Alaska’s John Arigo, Red Bull’s Willie Miller and Fran at off-guard, Alaska’s Don Allado and SMB’s Nick Belasco at forward and Sta. Lucia’s Marlou Aquino and Coke’s Edward Juinio at center.

Among those vying for All-Defensive team spots are Red Bull’s Davonn Harp, Shell’s Chris Jackson and Ginebra’s Eric Menk at center-forward and Purefoods’ Rey Evangelista, FedEx’s Wynne Arboleda, Fran, Cariaso and Miller.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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