MANILA, January 22, 2004  (STAR) By Joaquin Henson - The transformation of Barangay Ginebra into a serious title contender is just around the corner and coach Allan Caidic hopes to make the turn in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) this year.

There is reason to be optimistic. Caidic has brought in tested veterans who are expected to create an immediate impact on the floor. Andy Seigle, Rodney Santos, Jay-Jay Helterbrand, Migs Noble and possibly Noynoy Falcasantos fill the gaps that were evident in Ginebra’s roster last season.

"We weren’t a balanced team last year," says Caidic. "In the middle of the year, we were still adjusting to each other. Our backups were mostly rookies. Only Bal (David) had played for a championship team. When we pulled out our starters, things weren’t the same."

To solve the problem, Caidic did some wheeling and dealing in the offseason. First, he convinced Helterbrand–Mark Caguioa’s backcourt sidekick–to make a comeback after a one-year hiatus in Charleston, South Carolina. Then, he jettisoned Jun Limpot to Purefoods and in exchange, plucked Seigle and Santos. Grabbing Noble off Alaska waivers was another coup. Falcasantos, who played a game for Talk ‘N’ Text last season, may be the final addition, taking over Estong Ballesteros’ spot in the interim.

Gone from last year’s lineup are Chester Tolomia, Rob Johnson, Gilbert Malabanan, Elmer Lago (who’s now in the US) and Limpot. Ballesteros underwent surgery to repair a tear in the anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee last year and is not fully recovered. It will take two to three more months before Ballesteros is back to 100 percent capacity.

"It’s timely for Estong to strengthen his knee because his spot will be taken by an import in the coming conference," says Caidic. "Besides, we’re trying out Noynoy who might be able to fill in for the time being. Hilaw kasi ang recovery ni Estong. Napilitan siyang maglaro ng hindi pa fully recovered. Napabayaan ang rehab niya."

Caidic says the entry of the veterans has added spice to Ginebra’s scrimmages. "Banatan sa loob ng court," he notes. "Nobody can take things easy now, knowing there’s somebody waiting in line to play your spot. Kanya, sa practice, talagang very competitive. Everybody’s working hard. We’re focused on the work ahead. We feel it’s our time to make a statement."

Caidic says inking Noble to a 2 1/2 year contract was a wise investment. "Migs plays three or four, can hit the outside shot and is tough inside," he adds. "He’s a role player and an import defender. I think he’ll contribute right away."

As for Seigle, Caidic says he fills the hole in the middle. "We badly need help sa gitna, someone who can compete against Asi (Taulava) and (DaVonn) Harp," continues Caidic. "Andy can do that for us with Romel (Adducul)."

Santos is another welcome addition as Caguioa’s backup. "Rodney gives us quickness and a steady backcourt plus he can also play the point, if he needs to," says Caidic.

Holdovers are Eric Menk, Caguioa, Addicul, Sunday Salvacion, David, Aris Dimaunahan, Alex Crisano and Banjo Calpito.

For the Fiesta Cup starting Feb. 22, Caidic says he’s eyeing former FedEx import Jermaine Walker as Ginebra’s reinforcement. FedEx forfeited its rights to Walker by not signing him last year. Walker, 26, is fresh from playing for Marinos de Oriente in Venezuela where he led the league in free throw percentage (.870) and averaged 19.5 points. In 2002, Walker played two conferences for FedEx, scoring 27.8 points and grabbing 7.4 rebounds a game.

Last year, Ginebra posted a 16-25 record (.267) and failed to make it to the semifinals of the three championships. The Kings’ best finish was sixth in the Reinforced Conference and worst was 11th of 14 in the Invitationals.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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