The San Miguel Beermen added the 2019 Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Commissioner’s Cup title to go with the all-Filipino Philippine Cup title they obtained just a couple of months ago.

With two consecutive championships under their belts, the Beermen are the de facto choice to represent the Philippines in the upcoming 2019 FIBA Asia Champions Cup, where five of the eight tournaments slots have already been filled.

Most recently, two champion clubs from the region have also qualified to the club championships after topping the East Inter-Sub Zone qualifiers in Thailand this past week.

Hitech Basketball Club of the Thailand Basketball League (TBL), and the Fubon Braves from Chinese Taipei’s Super Basketball League (SBL) qualified to the Final 8, joining the reigning champion teams from the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), B.League Japan, and the Korean Basketball League (KBL).

Apart from East Asia’s ‘Big Three’ professional leagues, the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) is the only other league to be granted an automatic berth to the Final 8, and while the Philippines has been one of the most active countries in FIBA competitions, they have yet to be represented by reigning professional league titlists in the past 28 editions of the Champions Cup.

There have been six previous appearances by the Philippines at the Asia Champions Cup since the organizing body was renamed from the Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) in 2002, however, all of those teams consisted of national team selections and were never an actual pro team.

In the past, the Philippine National Team have competed under corporate sponsor San Miguel during the 2005 and 2007 editions of the FIBA Asia Champions Cup, as Smart Gilas between 2009-2011, and finally under Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas in 2017, all of whom failed to finish at the podium.

Last year, the PBA and the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) opted to send the Meralco Bolts in place of San Miguel. The Bolts made it to the semifinals but bowed out in a tightly-contested match against Petrochimi Bandar Imam BC of Iran.

Meralco’s participation as the first proper PBA team to join drew praise from Asian basketball fans, but most are still clamoring for a reigning Philippine league champion team to step up to the plate and put their name in for the 2019 edition.

What could possibly be holding a 27-time Philippine league champion back from a chance to prove their worth against the best teams in Asia? One reason could be that some key rotation players will not be eligible to play as locals under FIBA rules, and that would result to the Beermen in having a slightly depleted lineup.

Filipino-foreign players like Christian Standhardinger, Chris Ross, and Kelly Nabong can only qualify as imports under the FIBA eligibility ruling. Meanwhile, other members like Alex Cabagnot, Marcio Lassiter, and Matt Ganuelas-Rosser will pass as locals, given they had already played for the Philippine National Team in past FIBA competitions.

One thing potentially going in their favor would be that they can suit up two foreign players in the club championships, instead of the usual quota of just one import in the PBA.

As it stands, it still seems unlikely that the San Miguel franchise will answer the call, given they have shown little to no interest around the same time last year, citing a clash with the PBA calendar. However, the Meralco Bolts participated in their place in the week-long club championships and seemed to have no issues with their scheduling.

San Miguel is already set to make a rare appearance in an international club competition as they will be joining fellow PBA teams Blackwater Elite and their recent Finals opponents, TNT KaTropa, at the East Asia Super League tournament in Macau next month, so it appears they are able, only if willing.

In the end, whichever team will be selected to represent the PBA in the 2019 FIBA Asia Champions Cup can most definitely expect unyielding competition from the Guangdong Southern Tigers (China), Alvark Tokyo (Japan), Ulsan Mobis Hyundai Phoebus (South Korea), Fubon Braves (Chinese Taipei), Hitech Basketball Club (Thailand), and the two teams from the Gulf and West Asia subzones.

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