After the big boys have had their fun, it’s time for high-flying wingmen and undersized post players. The Governors’ Cup features reinforcements 6-foot-5 and below, but the fun they promise to deliver look to be unlimited. Here’s an early look at them.
Zach Graham, Air 21 Express
Graham is a young player out of Mississippi in the NCAA, where he averaged 14.2 points and 4.5 rebounds as a senior. He later played for the Reno Bighorns in the NBA D-League, putting up 10.9 points and 3.2 rebounds.
Graham is very comfortable shooting the basketball; he hit 47 three-pointers in 34 games in his senior year at Ole Miss, including a game where he knocked down 7-of-11 from long range, and shot better than 87% from the free throw line. In the D-League, he hit 43 three-pointerss in 43 games and shot at an 86.7% clip from the line.
Graham’s scoring will be a boon to a team that is still sorely lacking a true franchise guy. Look for him to carry the load for the Express, but what they can get from the locals will probably determine how far they can go this conference.
Jason Forte, Alaska Aces
Forte is an old reliable who’s on his third stint in the PBA, and his second with the Aces. He’s a strong, versatile player who posted averages of 23.1 points, 16.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.2 blocks in 13 games in the 2011 Governors’ Cup. He’s also just a few years removed from averaging 17 points and 8.5 rebounds for Romanian club Targu Mures, where he was named MVP of the Romanian final four.
Forte is the versatile type of import who can dunk with ease but can also hit from three-point range. He makes good decisions with the ball, and is a willing and able passer. He has a good reputation as a defender, both on the ball and in playing the passing lanes, and is a good rebounder for his size. He’s an all-around talent that can adapt and give the Aces what they need in a particular game.
Last year, he helped the Aces close in on a finals spot, narrowly losing it to Petron due to the quotient system after the round-robin semifinal round. He’s someone who’s played in Alaska’s triangle offense before, which interim coach Luigi Trillo is reportedly bringing back this conference, so there won’t be too much of an adjustment period. If he brings more of the same, then the Aces could be an interesting challenge for some of the top teams this conference.
Marqus Blakely, B-MEG Llamados
The 23-year-old Blakely is no stranger to having to play big, averaging 16.1 points, 7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks for the Sioux Falls Skyforce in the NBA D-League as an undersized power forward this year. He was described by B-MEG coach Tim Cone as playing “like (Marc Pingris) times two”, and the possibility of seeing two Sakuragis on the floor together should actively excite any basketball fan.
Like Pingris, Blakely excels mainly on the defensive end, where he averaged 2.7 blocks twice and 1.9 blocks once in his four-year college career with Vermont. He possesses fantastic length for his size, measuring under 6-foot-5 without shoes but with a 7-foot-1 wingspan at the NBA predraft camp. He’s shown the ability to defend multiple positions, from bigs to wings. He has tremendous athleticism as well, winning the US NCAA slam dunk contest in 2010 and making ESPN SportsCenter’s top plays in the process. Look for him to provide plenty of highlight-reel dunks on the offensive end, though he might show limited range on his shots.
It’s an interesting departure, though, from B-MEG’s last import Denzel Bowles, who was a top-notch offensive talent. Bowles really took pressure off of the locals scoring-wise, making up for the struggles of the hobbling PJ Simon in the finals and making things easier for guys like James Yap to put up big numbers. Look for both Yap and Simon to have to carry a heavier load offensively, but it looks like defense will be the key to their run at the title this conference, and Blakely will surely provide plenty of that.
Jamine Peterson, Barako Bull Energy
Peterson is nicknamed “Greedy”, though it isn’t clear exactly why. But his backstory is just as interesting as his nickname.
He just had a breakout season with Providence in the NCAA, averaging an impressive 19.6 points and 10.2 rebounds as a junior, when he was dismissed for a violation of team rules in May 2010. While the college refused to comment on anything about the incident, Peterson revealed later that it had something to do about showing a visiting high school recruit “a good time” with a female.
All that is behind him, though, but his scoring and rebounding talent remains. He is used to putting up huge numbers as an undersized power forward, which means he could really thrive as a big man in the PBA. In his final game at Providence, he put up a monstrous 38 points and 16 rebounds in the Big East tournament. In the D-League, he also showed the ability to knock down three-point shots which would add to an already impressive offensive arsenal. He’ll be a strong rebounder, too, which means big numbers should probably be expected from the young, talented Peterson.
A potentially dominant presence like Peterson could benefit Barako Bull’s aging “Manong Brigade”, who will be able to lean heavily on their import early and preserve their legs for another deep run into the playoffs. If Peterson proves “greedy” enough to want the Governors’ Cup crown badly, then the veteran-laden Energy could find themselves in the mix, just like last conference.
Cedric Bozeman, Barangay Ginebra
Bozeman has a bit of NBA experience, having played 23 games for the Atlanta Hawks in 2006-07, though he only averaged 8.7 minutes per game with the team. He was also able to play in the NCAA title game with the UCLA Bruins, alongside future NBA players Arron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar.
He’s described as very comfortable playing point guard, though his role in the PBA will probably be far from that. With a floor general’s mentality, his passing could be a real strength this conference, alongside the usual scoring that imports generally provide. He could be a real threat to put up triple-doubles, so watch for that as well. He’s a good defender and a nice “glue guy”, so he should be a solid pick-up for the Kings.
Bozeman will be a good addition to a team that already has a proven scorer in Commissioner’s Cup Best Player of the Conference Mark Caguioa. He doesn’t have the reputation of being a dominant guy, but he can make his teammates around him better, and that might mean Ginebra will be looking pretty good this conference.
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