Meet the 2015 PBA Commissioner's Cup imports

MANILA, Philippines - Six days after the epic conclusion of the 2015 PBA Philippine Cup finals series between the Alaska Aces and San Miguel Beermen, the 2015 PBA Commissioner's Cup is scheduled to begin on Tuesday, January 27 when KIA battles with GlobalPort and Ginebra takes on Meralco.

That means the process starts again: a single-robin elimination round, the quarterfinals, the semifinals, and the finals.

As always, teams in the second conference of the PBA season will get to field imports - likewise for the third conference, the Governors' Cup. But unlike the past few years, this year's Commissioner's Cup will allow teams who finished in the bottom four of the Philippine Cup standings to play imports with unlimited height. Hence, why KIA is bringing in a guy who's 7-foot-3.

We'll talk about him, along with the other imports we can expect to see in action this conference. This is the PBA, so it's inevitable that a number of imports will be replaced midway through the conference. But each one currently with a team should get to play at least a game or two, so we'll preview what spectators can expect out of them.

The San Miguel Beermen have yet to confirm an import for the next conference.

The indicated heights of the imports are not the official data from the PBA.

Alaska Aces: DJ Covington

Height: 6-foot-9

Age: 23

Hometown: Virginia Beach, Virginia

College: Virginia Military Institute

The Aces tried to bring back Robert Dozier, who helped lead the team to a 2013 PBA Commissioner's Cup title, for a third straight season. But due to the import's contract situation in the pro league he's playing for in Dubai, a reunion didn't come to fruition.

Instead, the Aces are bringing in 23-year-old defensive-minded big DJ Covington. Although he went unselected in the 2014 NBA Draft, the Virginia native still averaged 20.1 PPG and 9.3 RPG in his senior campaign with Virginia Military Institute in the NCAA, making him a deadly weapon to watch out for this conference.

Covington will make most of his money on the defensive end, where he's expected to bolster an Aces team that's already pretty solid on that side of the floor. He was the Big South conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and 2014, so Alaska fans need not to worry about missing out on Dozier's defensive prowess, seeing as his replacement looks more than capable of filling the void.

"We haven't seen much of DJ because he didn't have a chance to really practice with the team. We were focused on the finals. He's busy getting in shape now. But we know he's a defensive player, and we need someone with a defensive mindset who's going to play in our system," Aces owner Wilfred Uytengsu said about his team's new import.

"I'm hoping he fits in. He's going to have to work really hard. He's going to play a lot of minutes. Coach Compton said, 'DJ, I'm going to turn you into a track star, so be ready to run.' So we'll see what it is. I had a chat with him and he says he's excited to play with us."


Barako Bull Energy: Solomon Alabi

Height: 7-foot-1

Age: 26

Hometown: Nigeria

College: Florida State

Arguably the most followed import story over the past few weeks was KIA's acquisition of 7-foot-3 Puerto Rican PJ Ramos.

Ramos has played in different leagues around the world and is set to turn 30 this May. He doesn't jump off the books athletically, nor is he the fastest guy on the court. But he will be the tallest player in the PBA this upcoming conference, and he has a few post moves that he'll use to drop buckets against his undersized opponents.  

Utilizing a "hack-a-PJ" technique isn't advisable as well, since the big guy has a good stroke from the charity stripe. 

In a pair of tune-up games over the past week, Ramos scored 45 against Ginebra (playing without an import), and already had 25 points in KIA's practice match against Barako before it was halted late in the third quarter due to a skirmish.

Following the latter, Ramos talked about the chemistry he and his teammates have established.

"Ever since I got here I've been trying to help the team get better. We got better. You can see the results. We're playing hard. We're playing good defense. Everybody's focused in making it to the playoffs," Ramos said.

"We take care of each other and we're definitely in the same page. We're trying to help each other." 

KIA went 1-10 last conference and needs all the help they can get. Hopefully for them, Ramos can elevate the Carnival to respectability in the Commissioner's Cup.


Meralco Bolts: Josh Davis

Height: 6-foot-8

Age: 24

Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina

College: San Diego State

Twitter: @JoshDavis_22

While it was fun to see Cliff Hodge go to work on the glass every game this past conference, Meralco head coach Norman Black will surely open his arms to the rebounding prowess of import Josh Davis. 

Meralco lost to Ginebra in the battle for the services of Dunigan, but they might be better suited with the former San Diego State standout, who's been branded as the 2.0 version of Kawhi Leonard.

Obviously both guys are incomparable since one is the NBA Finals MVP while the other is now playing in the Philippines, but Meralco fans should still be excited. In his one season with San Diego State, Davis averaged just 7.7 PPG but grabbed 10.0 RPG - which is very impressive in the US collegiate level.

Before getting an offer to pack his bags for the Philippines from Black, Davis was putting up 14.0 PPG and 10.5 RPG in the NBA D-League for the Austin Toros.


NLEX Road Warriors: Al Thornton

Height: 6-foot-8

Age: 31

Hometown: Perry, Georgia

College: Florida State

Twitter: @AThornton14

Al Thornton, seen in a 2009 game as part of the Los Angeles Clippers, will reinforce an NLEX squad that struggled to a 3-9 record in the Philippine Cup. Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty Images/AFP

Al Thornton, seen in a 2009 game as part of the Los Angeles Clippers, will reinforce an NLEX squad that struggled to a 3-9 record in the Philippine Cup.

Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty Images/AFP

NLEX didn't utilize their unlimited height for an import advantage, but it's understandable considering their best player, 41-year-old Asi Taulava, plays mostly in the paint, where taller imports do damage.

The Road Warriors instead picked up former NBA All-Rookie team member Al Thornton, who just six years ago averaged 16.8 PPG and 5.2 RPG for the Los Angeles Clippers. 

He has the ability to nail 3-pointers and can drive to the paint. But NLEX head coach Boyet Fernandez is most excited about his new import's ability to defend multiple positions, which will come in handy for a squad that struggled to stop opponents from scoring last conference.

Purefoods Hotshots: Daniel Orton 

Height: 6-foot-10

Age: 24

Hometown: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

College: Kentucky

Twitter: @D_Orton33

Due to his commitment in the Chinese Basketball Association, Orton won't be available until a few days into February. Purefoods plans to field Marqus Blakely in his absence.

Orton played three seasons in the NBA for as many teams: Orlando, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia. He didn't succeed there, but was quite impressive in the CBA while he played for Shanxi Zhongyu and the Sichuan Blue Whales (with averages of 17.9 PPG and 10.3 RPG in 12 games for the latter).

Fatigue, wear and tear, and complacency finally caught up to Purefoods last conference. It's why they were unable to continue their championship dynasty and suffered an early elimination at the hands of Meralco in the quarters. 

But a bigger issue was that Hotshots needed more depth up front, seeing as they had to rely on Yousef Taha and had to trade for Mick Pennisi while they waited for a tired Marc Pingris to fully recover. 

It didn't work. But with Orton now on board and a long layoff to recuperate in between conferences, Purefoods may be back in the picture for the Commissioner's Cup title, which they are going to defend.


Rain or Shine Elasto Painters: Rick Jackson 

Height: 6-foot-9

Age: 25

Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

College: Syracuse

Rain or Shine's initial choice was to bring back Wayne Chism, but that idea was washed down due to the import's contract situation with his team in Israel. 

Enter Rick Jackson, a 25-year-old former Syracuse Orange who put up 13.1 PPG and 10.3 RPG in his senior campaign to lead the Big East conference in rebounds, field goal percentage, and blocks. Jackson also played for the Austin Toros in the NBA D-League, registering 10.8 PPG and 9.9 RPG.

Raymond Almazan had an impressive Philippine Cup, and of course Beau Belga is still a serviceable big man for the Elasto Painters. But to finally break through and win a championship, they will need more consistent inside scoring, which Jackson can bring. His rebounding tenacity will also make him an instant favorite of Coach Yeng Guiao.


Talk 'N Text Tropang Texters: Richard Howell 

Height: 6-foot-8

Age: 24

Hometown: Marietta, Georgia

College: North Carolina State

Twitter: @1richowell 

Richard Howell has been a rebounding machine for Talk 'N Text. File photo by Nuki Sabio/PBA Images

Richard Howell has been a rebounding machine for Talk 'N Text.

File photo by Nuki Sabio/PBA Images

For the second straight season, Richard Howell will suit up for the Tropang Texters. On his way to winning the Best Import award in last year's Commissioner's Cup, Howell averaged 19.5 PPG, 18.8 RPG, 1.7 APG, and 1.5 SPG. Their squad swept through the elimination round and didn't suffer a loss until game 1 of the finals against Purefoods (then known as San Mig Coffee). 

SMC beat TNT in four games to win the title, which will be a source of motivation for Howell to get the job done this season. The cast he'll be around with now is going to be different from last year, however.

He has a new coach in Jong Uichico. Jimmy Alapag is now the team manager and not shooting 3-balls from the parking lot. This year's Tropang Texters also rely more on their young players thanks to the stellar play of Matt Ganuelas-Rosser and Kevin Alas.

The team's glaring hole last conference was up front, where Coach Uichico was forced to play smallball by inserting Jay Washington at the five or playing the offensively-limited Rob Reyes in key situations. The tactic didn't work in the semis, where June Mar Fajado and his San Miguel Beermen swept the Tropang Texters in four games.

Howell is a ferocious rebounder and will get a lot of his points on put-backs and off pick-and-rolls. He won't be asked to produce a high amount of shots on offense considering the team's firepower in the perimeter, but will be tough to deal with for opposing defenses nonetheless. On defense, any kind of rim protection he offers will be an instant upgrade for TNT. -