MANILA,  September 28, 2004  (STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson - ABC-TV Sports is upbeat in projecting a bigger and better Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) this year.

The PBA’s 30th season opens with the One Philippines Cup on Sunday.

"We will air more live games with better timeslots and bigger reach," says ABC’s marketing head Winston de la Cruz. "We will feature bigger attractions, more celebrities, more promos, better competition and a bigger stage. We will keep our loyal followers by steadying the ship with our veterans while we project a younger and tougher league."

Two live games will be shown on ABC every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday starting 4 p.m. On Thursday, the 4 p.m. slot will be for the Tuesday provincial game and the provincial game that day will be shown on a slightly delayed basis starting at 7.

That means PBA games will be played five days a week–a provincial outing on Tuesday, a doubleheader on Wednesday, another provincial game on Thursday and two more doubleheaders on Friday and Sunday.

Former pro cagers Jason Webb, Richard del Rosario, Eric Reyes and Peter Martin are joining the telecast panel as analysts. Making their debuts as courtside reporters are racer Pia Boren, Pinky Prieto, Stephanie Camacho and Joan Bondoc.

Pia is a popular commercial endorser. She was named Fastest Lady Driver last season after finishing fourth in the novice division of the Ford Lynx Cup. The year before, the San Beda Alabang student was a consistent top finisher for team Edgesport in the Shell Super Karting series.

Pinky is a 5-7 head-turner who has worked as a courtside interviewer for the Philippine Basketball League and the NCAA. Stephanie has anchored news reports for the National Broadcasting Network and is an interior design graduate of the University of the Philippines.

Joan is a product of the Poveda Learning Center and UP where she is majoring in home economics. She was once a Levis campus model.

Mark Sambrano and Mon Liboro are also in the broadcast pool along with Ed Picson, Norman Black, Miko Halili, Vitto Lazatin, Benjie Santiago, Barry Pascua, Dominic Uy, Paolo Trillo, Patricia Bermudez and Quinito Henson.

TV director Sienna Olazo is confident the all-star cast will deliver a stirring coverage with its blend of youth and experience.

De la Cruz says this season’s TV coverage will be "the defining moment" for ABC Sports and the PBA.

"We will reestablish the PBA as the country’s No. 1 sports and entertainment show," vows De la Cruz. "We will continue to be strong on basketball content–analysis, stats, personal data–and we’ll spice up the coverage by playing up the bidas and kontrabidas, the supporting cast, the conflicts and the rivalries. On the technical side, we’ll be as strong in terms of camera angles, graphics and dramatic shots."

De la Cruz notes that the PBA’s spectacular showing in TV ratings and market share during the Fiesta Conference Finals is a clear indication of an irreversible upward trend.

In Game 1, the PBA was No. 1 for 11 minutes, peaking at 21.2 percent in ratings and 35.3 percent in audience share. In Game 2, the ABC network was No. 2 for 35 minutes peaking at 19.1 percent in ratings and 28.1 percent in audience share. In Game 3, the coverage was No. 1 for four minutes, peaking at 22.3 percent in ratings and 37.4 percent in audience share. In Game 4, the PBA was No. 2 for 52 solid minutes, peaking at 21.8 percent in ratings and 31.2 percent in audience share.

PBA technical manager Perry Martinez, meanwhile, says the league will keep its roster of 19 referees but a new system of assignments will be used. The referees will be split into groups of nine and 10. Assignments will be announced two to four weeks ahead of schedule per group. The actual six referees to work on a two-game schedule will be chosen on the playing day.

The PBA will continue to institute a no-drug policy with a mandatory testing for all players once and two random tests on two randomly-selected players during a conference. The banned substances are marijuana, shabu and ecstasy.

* * *

Ateneo coaching consultant, former PBA coach and ABC TV sports analyst Norman Black says he’s enjoying his exposure to college basketball.

"In the PBA, the focus is strictly basketball," he explains. "In college, there’s a balance because the kids go to school. Ateneo, for instance, is strict with academics. That’s why our practices are always on time. There’s such a thing as ‘hell week’ for exams and that happens in the middle of the second round. The coaching staff is there for basketball but we understand the players go to school, too."

Losing Larry Fonacier to a knee injury hurt Ateneo’s chances to crash the last dance, sighs Black.

"We played well without Larry for a while," says Black. "Eventually, we felt his absence down the stretch. Larry’s our best offensive and defensive player, our heart and soul. Against La Salle and FEU when we had to win, we missed Larry. We needed one or two guys to carry us through. LA did a good job at first but it’s easy to stop a point guard because you can make him give up the ball on a trap and he might not get it back. But we’re proud of the guys. They played beyond expectations despite losing Larry."

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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