MANILA, Philippines --- Nearly two months after suffering an eye injury, veteran guard Mark Caguioa returns to action today as Barangay Ginebra collides with Air21 in the PBA Governors' Cup at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Caguioa sustained a fractured right orbital socket when it was accidentally hit by B-Meg's James Yap during their playoff game last March 30 in the Commissioner's Cup.
That sidelined him during their semifinals clash with B-Meg which did not only win the series but also the title against Talk 'N Text.
Last week, the 6-foot-1 Caguioa was given the 'green light' by doctors to practice gradually. Feeling better, he practiced full time the past few days.
Ginebra coach Siot Tanquingcen intends to maximize the minutes of Caguioa.
"We'll see during the game," Tanquingcen said as Ginebra tackles Air21 at 5:15 p.m.
"Remember, he didn't play since that game against B-Meg. He joined the team practice only last week, so he's not in game shape. But knowing Mark, he's a hard worker, he'll try to help the team win the game," added Tanquingcen.
The return of the 32-year-old Caguioa, named the Best Player of the Conference (BPC) in the Commissioner's Cup, is a big addition to the Ginebra backcourt with Jay-Jay Helterbrand, Mike Cortez, Rob Labagala and John Wilson.
The Kings' frontline is also formidable with the presence of Rudy Hatfield, Rico Villanueva, Kerby Raymundo, KG Canaleta, Willy Wilson, Rico Maierhofer, Billy Mamaril, and rookies Dylan Ababou and Allein Maliksi.
Ginebra will have Cedric Bozeman as import.
The former University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) guard who played for the Atlanta Hawk in 2007 and is well-travelled having played in Belgium, Poland, and China.
Bozeman also had stints in the NBA D-League with the Maine Red Claws and the Reno Bighorns, where he played alongside Zach Graham, who will suit up for the Air21 Express.
"We are still an undersized team. Hopefully our import can compensate for it in terms of scoring," said Air21 coach Franz Pumaren, whose team had a 3-6 record in the Commissioner's Cup after a 0-12 card in the PH Cup.
Clashing in the second game at 7:30 p.m. are sister teams Talk 'N Text and Meralco.
The Tropang Texters are playing for the first time since their 90-84 overtime defeat to the B-Meg Llamados in Game 7 of the Commissioner's Cup Finals, and injuries to several players will be crucial as they start their bid today.
"Coming off only three days practice and playing without Jimmy (Alapag), Jayson (Castro), Kelly (Williams), Harvey (Carey), Ryan (Reyes) and Ranilde (de Ocampo)," said Reyes in a text message as he gave the six more time to recover from various injuries.
"We have little expectations for the game. We will just try our best to battle and find a way to win. But honestly, we're not ready at all," added Reyes, whose team will be reinforced by Paul Harris, the import who led the team to the Commissioner's Cup title last season.
In this same conference a season ago, TNT lost to Petron Blaze in the finals that denied the Texters a 'grand slam' feat.
Meralco will also have a returnee import in Champ Oguchi, a three-point specialist who donned the Bolts' uniform in the Commissioner's Cup last season, and he will be reunited with teammates Mac-Mac Cardona, Asi Taulava, Sol Mercado, and Chris Ross.
"He's returning for another tour of duty. He is known as a shooter and a good floor spacer," said Meralco mentor Ryan Gregorio. TNT is the only team that we haven't beaten in the league (since joining last season). That is surely an added motivation for us."
Meanwhile, the PBA Commissioner's Office fined TNT forward Japeth Aguilar P25,000 for missing the recent PBA All-Star Festivities. The 6-foot-8 forward was supposed to participate in the Smal Dunk contest and in the All-Star Game as a starter for the Rookie/Sophomore/Junior.
Aguilar was the only TNT players to be fined by Commissioner Chito Salud, as Jimmy Alapag, Kelly Williams, Ranidel de Ocampo and Larry Fonacier informed the PBA office days before the event.