TOP contenders Wangs Basketball @26-Letran and Adalem Construction-St. Clare collide in a battle of collegiate champions to usher in the much-awaited comeback of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) D-League Aspirants Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Game time is at 10:30 a.m. with the Knights as the back-to-back National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) champions and the Saints as the reigning five-time National Athletic Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (NAASCU) king going for the first blood in D-League’s return after more than two years of break due to the pandemic.

Established collegiate programs in AMA Online and Centro Escolar University (CEU) then follow suit at 12:30 p.m. to complete the twin-bill opener of the eight-team tourney hat also includes EcoOil-La Salle, Marinerong Pilipino, Builders Warehouse–UST and Apex Fuel–San Sebastian.

Parading an intact core from its perfect title run in NCAA Season 97, Letran looms the team to beat but coach Bonnie Tan remains wary of the competition.

“Medyo kulang pa ang preparations namin. We just resumed practicing this week, so mate-test talaga ‘yung tibay ng mga bata,” said Mr. Tan, tasking seasoned guard Fran Yu to lead the way with the possible unavailability of NCAA Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player (MVP) Rhenz Abando due to his national team duty.

A champion of its own, St. Clare vows an all-out fight even against the NCAA title holder.

“Lalaban lahat yan, kaya importante sa amin na makasabay. Hindi naman kami sumali dito para tumakbo-takbo lang,” coach Jinino Manansala said with NAASCU MVP behind the efforts of MVP Johnsherick Estrada and Senegalese big man Babacar Ndong at helm. — John Bryan Ulanday