DIGOS — The 2013 PBA All-Star Extravaganza, back deep down in Mindanao for the first time in three years, finally unwraps Friday with the skills events and the second edition of the Legends Game before an expected overflowing crowd at the Davao del Sur Coliseum here.
The final wave of the 150-strong PBA delegation, led by league board chair Robert Non and including members and the coaching staff of Gilas Pilipinas, flies in at noon, and hostilities fire off at 5 p.m.
Boxing icon Manny Pacquiao could be a special treat to the fans if he shows up and pushes through with his planned participation in the Legends Game.
But with or without Pacquiao, it’s a star-studded day with past and present PBA stars to rock the crowd in the Legends Game.
Ginebra rookie high-flyer Chris Ellis looms as the new player to watch in the slam-dunk contest even as a host of worthy challengers are expected to give three-time Three-Point Shootout champ Mark Macapagal a tough challenge in the skills events.
Ellis, Ginebra’s latest livewire performer, has been installed as the top bet to claim the crown to be relinquished by five-time undefeated champion KG Canaleta.
Canaleta, winning his fifth title in Laoag City last year, himself considers Ellis as the top choice, saying the 6-foot-4 Ginebra forward is an exciting midair artist that could well wow the crowd and gain the nod of the judges.
“I’ll try to give a little show, try to do something for everybody. I’ve got some things lined up,” said Ellis.
Gilas Pilipinas players Japeth Aguilar and Gabe Norwood should’ve been slam-dunk participants but the coaching staff asked that the two be excused to avoid the risk of getting injured.
Others left to compete in the jam session are rookies Calvin Abueva and Cliff Hodge and old participants Arwind Santos and Elmer Espiritu.
“May ipapakita rin naman tayo. Hindi nakakasiguro iyan (Ellis),” said Santos.
Wide-open battles are seen in Three-Point Shootout and in Obstacle Challenge, the other skills events ushering in the All-Star hostilities.
“Mabigat ang laban, at ang problema wala akong ensayo. Pero syempre, pipilitin kong maka-apat,” said Macapagal, the three-time reigning Three-Point Shootout champ.
Canaleta, Josh Urbiztondo and Marcio Lassiter, the three other semifinalists last year, are back to challenge Macapagal. Others in the elite list of participants are two-time PBA season MVP winners James Yap and Willie Miller, sophomore standout Jayvee Casio and rookie hotshot Chris Tiu.
Tiu is a dark horse, being a former two-time winner in the three-point shootout in the collegiate all-stars.
“Ii-enjoy ko lang ang event. Lahat ng kasali may tsansang manalo. Kung sino maganda ang feel at makakuha ng rhythm, sya ang panalo,” said Tiu.
Macapagal beat Canaleta, Urbiztondo and Lassiter in the finale last year, becoming the first three-time ruler of the competition. Before the Laoag edition of the PBA All-Stars, Macapagal, Allan Caidic, Jasper Ocampo and Boyet Fernandez shared the honors as two-time winners.
Jonas Villanueva looks for his own four-peat in the Obstacle Challenge where participants go through an obstacle course performing different basketball skills. The player who finishes the course in the shortest time wins the crown.
Out to foil Villanueva’s bid are Miller (himself a former three-time winner), Casio, Hodge, Mark Barroca, Simon Atkins, Ronald Tubid, Pamboy Raymundo and Paul Lee.
And then there’s the Legends Game featuring Benjie Paras, Jerry Codinera, Vince Hizon, Bong Ravena, Noli Locsin and Bong Hawkins among others.
As PBA commissioner Chito Salud said: “Game is on!” (SB)