MANILA, February 16, 2004  (STAR) By Nelson Beltran - Reigning All-Filipino champion Talk n Text and Reinforced Cup titlist Coca-Cola take on Red Bull Barako and Purefoods, respectively, on Feb. 25 to start their campaigns in the PBA Fiesta Cup eliminations which will run up to the merry fiesta month of May and will feature a total of 15 road games.

Alaska Milk, the 2003 Invitational Cup winner, meanwhile, tackles Sta. Lucia Realty on Feb. 28 to kick off its bid in the PBA transition tourney which opens this Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum.

The tournament opener pits a rejuvenated Barangay Ginebra squad versus a Shell team with top draft pick Rich Alvarez plus two other rookies in Carlo Sharma and Kalani Ferreria. They play at 6 p.m. after an eleborate opening rites ushering in the import-flavored Fiesta Cup which serves as the league’s bridge from its old structure to the new one.

San Miguel Beer, the Reinforced Cup first runner-up which had the fourth best cumulative win-loss record last season, tackles FedEx in a twinbill that also pits Alaska versus Sta. Lucia in the tourney’s first stop at the Philsports Arena on Feb. 28.

Araneta Coliseum plays host to the tourney’s first two play dates and actually almost three-fourth of the whole calendar.

But it can’t be said that the league forgot to set live games for its fans in the provinces.

In fact, the PBA is visiting Zamboanga for the first time in years, featuring a Sta. Lucia-Coke setto on April 15. The league will also have stops in Gen. Santos City on March 4, Balanga, Bataan March 11, Dumaguete City March 18, Cebu City March 25, Tacloban City April 1, Puerto Princesa April 22, Davao City April 29 and Lucena City May 6. The Ynares Center in Antipolo is hosting three double-headers.

The Thursday out-of-town games will be aired live on ABC-5 from 5:30-8 p.m.

The Metro Manila games are now on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The weekend games will be telecast live. On Wednesdays, only the 7 p.m. game will be covered live with the 4:45 p.m. game to be taped for showing at 7 p.m. on Fridays.

On papers, the coaches’ consensus is that Talk n Text, Coca-Cola, Red Bull Barako and San Miguel Beer are the teams to beat with Ginebra San Miguel and Purefoods likely to improve on their showings last year.

Figuring prominently in the three tournaments last year, the Tigers, the Thunder and the Beermen opted to keep the nucleus of their teams intact.

Already having a formidable lineup, the Phone Pals, meanwhile, tried to make their team even more formidable by acquiring the services of talented, young stars Willie Miller and Yancy de Ocampo in trade deals.

Miller will have an early confrontation with his former Thunder teammates as Red Bull Barako and Talk n Text clash on Feb. 25. Filling in the spot left vacant by Miller at Red Bull Barako is former Fullerton State mainstay Denver Lopez.

Purefoods’ new recruits June Peter Simon, James Yap, Paul Artadi and Ervin Sotto, meanwhile, get an early baptism of fire in the pro league as the Hotdogs face the fierce-fighting Tigers on the same day.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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