Blackwater's confidence is at a high with the entry of highly-touted rookie Bobby Ray Parks Jr. and returning import Alex Stepheson.
Aris Dimaunahan, previously Blackwater's assistant, also makes his much-awaited PBA coaching debut Sunday when the Elite take on the Meralco Bolts in the opening day of the 2019 Commissioner's Cup at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The 41-year-old rookie coach admits feeling the pressure, aware that expectations on him are high to try to turn things around for Blackwater, which finished last in the 2019 Philippine Cup.
"The pressure will always be there. But we'll work hand in hand from the management to the coaches down to the players to make things work," Dimaunahan told ESPN5 on Saturday.
Dimaunahan said the Elite played three tuneup games against Barangay Ginebra, NorthPort and TNT to break in Parks and Stepheson.
"We've got to play this game the right way for the whole 48 minutes and continue to play for each other and not with each other," he said.
Stepheson, the former USC Trojan, will be Blackwater's defensive anchor. The wide-bodied 6-10 American most recently averaged 21.8 points, 13.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists for the Yokohama B-Corsairs in the Japan B.League.
Meanwhile, veteran Blackwater guard Mike DiGregorio touted Parks as a huge addition.
"He [Parks] is a versatile player who can really make plays for others as well as draw the necessary attention to himself," DiGregorio said. "He's a good mix for our group because he's a team-first guy. And that's really important because it creates great chemistry for the team. Chemistry is such an important and underrated component to success, and he helps bring that sense of chemistry to our team."
Blackwater owner Dioceldo Sy took notice of Parks' attitude.
"He's very humble and down to earth and he has blended well with the team," Sy said.
Parks is coming into the PBA with a long list of achievements, having won a third straight ASEAN Basketball League Local MVP. The former National U Bulldog's decorated basketball career also includes winning an ABL championship with Alab Pilipinas in 2018, a PBA D-League title and an MVP award in 2015, two UAAP MVP trophies, three Southeast Games gold medals, and stints with Gilas in recent years. He averaged 15.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists for Alab this past season.
The Elite hope he can repeat those numbers as the team tries to redeem itself in the Commissioner's cup.
The Bolts are no pushovers, however. Recently acquired big man Raymond Almazan won't be available for the next three weeks as he recovers from a calf injury. But judging from its past tuneups, Meralco seems to have gotten a gem of an import in Gani Lawal. The American-Nigerian standout from Georgia Tech averaged over 30 points and 14 rebounds in tuneup wins over the Alaska Aces and TNT KaTropa.
"He may not be as tall or as heavy as the other imports, but he's very strong inside the paint and he's a very good defensive player," Meralco coach Norman Black said of Lawal.
Like Stepheson, Lawal also played in the Japan B.League, averaging 21.0 points and 12.2 rebounds in 42 games.