MANILA – The 2019 PBA D-League is expected to showcase young and talented players who could someday become the country’s next basketball heroes.

“The road to the PBA starts here (D-League), so we expect to see some of the leading basketball talents in the country,” PBA Operations Head Eric Castro said during the “Usapang Sports” presented by the Tabloid Organization in Philippine Sports (TOPS) at the National Press Club in Intramuros, Manila on Thursday.

Castro said all 20 teams seeing action in the PBA D-League starting February 14 are fielding outstanding players 17 years old and above who can be the next June Mar Fajardo, Mark Caguiao or Terrence Romeo in the PBA.

“This year’s PBA D-League teams, which include four commercial teams and champion teams from the UAAP, NCAA, NAASCU and UCBL, have assembled competitive lineups capable of winning the title,” de Castro said during the weekly sports forum supported by the Philippine Sports Commission and the National Press Club and shown live on Facebook via Glitter Livestream.

De Castro, who represented PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial, said the tournament will kick off on Valentine’s Day with a doubleheader pitting Cignal-Ateneo against Go for Gold-St. Benilde and Marinerong Pilipino against Valencia City-San Sebastian College at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City.

Also present were coaches Yong Garcia of Marinerong Pilipino, Lou Gatumbato of Letran College-Petron, Jimmy Manansala of St. Clare College-Virtual Reality, Mike Saguiguit of the University of Perpetual Help-Rizal, Benjie Diswe of AMA Online Education, and Kristoffer Co of University of Santo Tomas-Ironcon Builders.

Garcia, one of the more experienced coaches in the league, said Marinerong Pilipino will continue to fight hard despite playing against strong collegiate teams, which boast of more cohesive lineups.

Gatumbato, who will serve as the assistant coach of Bonnie Tan, said Letran will be ready for the challenge, regardless of the opponent facing them.

On the other hand, Manansala, the 1977 PBA Rookie of the Year with Tanduay Rhum, said St. Clare College will continue to work hard and play hard every game.

Saguiguit said the Altas under coach Frankie Lim will use the PBA D-League to hone the skills of their players in preparation for the NCAA while Diswe said the Mark Herrera-led AMA Titans are eager to improve their quarterfinal finishes in previous D-League tournaments.

Co, a member of the UST-Ironcon coaching staff that included coach Aldin Ayo and Boni Garcia, said the Tigers will bring several new talents, including junior players, to carry the fight.

TOPS, headed by People’s Tonight sports editor Ed Andaya, is composed of editors, reporters and photographers from the country’s leading tabloids. (PR)