Back in full force, TNT ready to defend Commissioner’s Cup crown
Ranidel de Ocampo has recovered from a spine injury and is now trying to catch up with his TNT teammates in practice, hoping to be back in top shape by the start of the mid-season PBA Commissioner’s Cup on Feb. 10.
Meanwhile, Ivan Johnson is back in town, set for another tour of duty with the Tropang Texters as they try to defend the Commissioner’s Cup championship they won over the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in a classic seven-game titular series last year.
The Texters open their title defense versus the Blackwater Elite on opening day at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“We’ve started training on Jan. 11. Ranidel is with us but he’s still feeling his way around,” said TNT coach Jong Uichico.
“We’re back with a complete lineup. We have Ivan Johnson as import again but we have a different lineup from last year. The other teams have improved so it’s hard to tell what’s ahead of us in the second conference,” Uichico added.
What is certain is that they are back with a tremendous post threat in Johnson and whatever De Ocampo can contribute in his return from injury.
De Ocampo missed all but one of TNT’s 13 games in the Philippine Cup after getting hurt in a freak accident during weight training.
In the lone game De Ocampo was able to play, the 6-foot-6 forward churned out 26 points, 15 rebounds, three steals and one assist.
“He’s trying to get back slowly. He’s yet to join us in full practice,” said Uichico.
Johnson, on the other hand, has been inactive for months since completing a playing stint in the Spanish league.
“But he’s not completely out of basketball. He’s playing pickup games. And we still have couples of days to get ready for the Commissioner’s Cup,” said Uichico.
Johnson, a former Atlanta Hawk in the NBA, was an import sub to Richard Howell when he led the Tropang Texters to the championship last year.
They shared first place in the elims with the Elasto Painters and the Star Hotshots at 8-3 before crushing the Barako Bull Energy in the quarterfinals, the Hotshots in the semis then the E-Painters in a rugged, emotional, well-fought championship series.
Johnson placed second to ROS’ Wayne Chism in the fight for the Best Import award. Jayson Castro won the Best Player of the Conference plum while De Ocampo bagged the Finals MVP trophy.
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