2008-09 ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: DECONSTRUCTING THE 2008 DRAFT

Before we try to ask ourselves whether Rico Maierhofer and Jervy Cruz could sustain their strengths to the pros… or whether Japeth Aguilar would play a major role in the Barako Bull’s lineup (being the weakest team)… or ask if Ronnie Matias, Marcy Arellano, Lance Convento, Ford Arao, Chris Timberblake, Ogie Menor, and Chris Ross could create big time impact… let us see who blazed the finest in this season’s crop of rookies.

Except for some bad seeds, I think he have one of the best rookie rosters since… well… five years ago! The depth of the draft was questionable at the start and while it did show, there are some players that could pretty much spearhead the future. Gabe Norwood and Solomon Mercado’s tandem (Fire and Ice) is awaiting their much anticipated lockup with the Fast and the Furious duo of Mark Caguioa (he will return next season) and Jayjay Helterbrand. Jason Castro and Jared Dillinger’s entry to Talk N Text tremendously diminished Renren Ritualo’s effectiveness. TY Tang’s Fiesta Cup playoffs showing is turning some heads while Bonbon Custodio’s Philippine Cup heroics are enough to make the guy a fan fave. Throw in a couple of hard workers like Larry Rodriguez and Jeff Chan, and add them with Yeng Guiao’s army of darkness comprised of Beau Belga, Erick Rodriguez, and Mark Yee.

So please turn your attention to this and let’s look at the best and the worst of the draft.

GAME STARTS NOW!


THE UNDRAFTED PLAYERS:

A lot of new names debuted in the 2008-09 PBA Season. Most of the players came from the Harbour Centre lineup while some were players picked around the PBL and the Liga.

LAWRENCE BONUS (Coca-Cola) – An undrafted player from the 2008 Draft, Bonus was signed by the Tigers to see their need in the inside with Asi Taulava and Nic Belasco were bothered by injuries at the end of the 2008 Philippine Cup. He played for a mere two games before settling in a reserve player. But improves, certainly that’s a BONUS! Haha! You’re not laughing. THAT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY!

CHAD ALONZO (Purefoods/Burger King/Barako Bull) – The former Adamson ace debuted as a Giant in the Philippine Cup where he scored a couple of appearances. He was traded to BK where he blossomed on Yeng Guiao’s tutelage but he went to the reserve list upon Mark Yee’s entry. Undrafted in the 2006 Draft, he is now in Barako Bull in trade that also involved Carlo Sharma. Hey, 3 teams in one season is a great start right?

AL VERGARA (Purefoods) – Here’s another player that wasn’t picked in the 2006 Draft. He was the man behind the passes that were sent to either Yancy or Ranidel when they were still playing in St. Francis. He is a longtime Harbour Centre player who was actually the last player waived by Purefoods in their 2008 preseason camp. He turned this from bad to good as he replaced Jason Castro at the Singapore Slingers. In the Slingers’ offseason, he played for 8 games in the Fiesta Cup as a Purefoods Giant. He’ll likely return to Singapore where he is expected to play two more years.

ERICK RODRIGUEZ (Burger King) – He resembles that guy who had the same surname and the same built that played for the San Juan Knights (another guy not named Omanzie) whose only mission is to crack limbs and swear profanities at the opponents. The former Letran Knight that was snubbed in the 2006 Draft was sought by Yeng Guiao to backstop his newly-furnished Burger King Team. And yes, alongside Yee, Aaron Aban, and JR Quinahan, they form the “second chance” second team whose careers are now in full swing thanks to Yeng Guiao. He posted 20 points, his career high that was set during the Fiesta Cup Semis… not to mention a series of bumps and bruises towards his opponents.

MARK YEE (Burger King) – This was one of the players that I hoped would be drafted in the 2008 PBA Draft. Turns out, he wasn’t and the only refuge for this San Sebastian-Cavite standout was to languish in the Liga. Now Yee, while not a name in Manila, was a powerhouse at Liga. Playing for the Misamis Meteors he won MVP honors and the team captured the Liga crown for the second straight year. Actually he had to make the BK management wait for his services until after the championship. He was quickly signed and he played under the mentorship of Yeng Guiao where he did everything Yeng wanted. He smelled blood in most of his attacks firing multiple double-digit scoring nights for the Whoppers. And if smelling blood is strength, he also loves to extract blood. Just ask Wesley Gonzales.


THE DRAFT PROPER:

*The draft was a man missing because then Red Bull coach Yeng Guiao had too many draft picks.

19 CHRISTIAN CABATU (Sta. Lucia) – I love to tell everyone who this guy is… a second generation superstar who also has a brother playing in the pros… I really want to talk stuffs from this Sta. Lucia draftee… IF ONLY HE PLAYED IN THE PBA!!!

18 MARK CUEVAS (Red Bull) – This is the reason why Coach Yeng passed his other pick. THE DRAFT DEPTH WAS SUPERBLY WEAK! But looking back, I was hoping to see Mark Yee’s name to pop up in the festivities. Luckily Cuevas never got the chance to strut his stuffs and Yee looks poised to become Guiao’s newest project.

17 JEFF CHAN (Red Bull) – Chan’s decision to withdraw in the 2007 Draft made him something. He dropped in the drafting order to 17 though which means it could have been a wrong choice. Red Bull luckily didn’t think that and in fact they seemed lucky to see his name still available. Chan was also lucky to be in the now-called Barako Bull Energy Boosters… a team that is seriously talent-starved. He became their starting guard after Cyrus Baguio’s departure and critics should expect his game to luckily improve in his sophomore season. Too many words with lucky? Well… he’s part Chinese…

16 JONATHAN FERNANDEZ (Purefoods) – While Chan played solid, Fernandez played like there is no tomorrow (insert sarcasm here, haha). Seriously, whenever he gets the ball he either shoots it quickly (like the ball is a timebomb ready to explode) or gives it to some random living thing (like the ball is a timebomb ready to explode). Sure, he’ll probably play again in the next season, but his antics must improve if he wants to continue playing in the league. You put Gatorade in the tumbler… not Blend 45.

15 KELVIN DELA PENA (Alaska) – Before he came to the PBA, he was the NCAA MVP. Now except for his print, billboard and TV commercials where he models for an energy drink, he seldom appears on TV. Like what I have been saying in my past blogs, he is too raw for the PBA. The double whammy? He was drafted by Alaska, a team that finds no confidence in players’ aged under 25. At least he has modeling to fall back to…

14 CHITO JAIME (Sta. Lucia) – With all the players still available in the draft, they picked up a guy that played in AMA College (Division 3 leagues). Jaime is not bad… he’s just not electrifying (to think he came from a computer school). While I doubt his stock would improve if he decided to withdraw his application, he lacked fine tuning during his first season in the league. The former Toyota Otis banger will find it hard to break out from his weak rookie season.

13 CHOLO VILLANUEVA (Air21) – The first thing I thought when he was picked is that the Express wasted this pick for not picking someone better. Villanueva, except for his clutch shots that made him famous, was nothing more than a typical off-guard that has no quickness. He hardly comes in the court, more from playing in clutch situations, which is why his buzzer-beating shots are still unheard of in the league.

12 TY TANG (Rain Or Shine) – In my mind, I’ll leave Chan and Tang as the two biggest steals in the 2008 PBA Draft. I mean, Sta. Lucia and Alaska could have used his playmaking abilities but for his career, ROS was a great landing spot. He is used consistently throughout the season and in the Fiesta Cup playoffs, we might have experienced his breakout stint. Imagine him and Escobal trading places in the draft? Lucky TY! Poor Pong!

11 PONG ESCOBAL (TNT) – Speaking of Pong, I hated this pick but it was inevitable. Escobal played for Frankie Lim’s San Beda squad and he is also the team’s manager. I stated that Escobal is too raw for the league since he was also a victim of Beda’s no PBL policy. He didn’t do anything significant in his rookie stint and he looked like a boy wearing man clothes at TNT. The only way he could play is if Jimmy Alapag gets injured or retires. That’s not going to happen anytime soon.

10 KELVIN GREGORIO (Sta. Lucia) – While the UE forward was an OK forward, he is no power forward, which was what the Realtors would have wanted. Actually the Realtors needed a scoring point guard too, which is why the TY Tang snub baffled me. After playing in the Philippine Cup, he was unheard of in the Fiesta Cup. He excelled in one game but he didn’t even get the nod in playing in the playoff parts of the Fiesta Cup despite Kelly Williams’ loss to injury.

9 LARRY RODRIGUEZ (Red Bull) – This hard-working player out of PMI surprised everyone by becoming a first round choice. Like what I have been saying, Rodriguez plays like Freddie Abuda… but with offense. Had Leo Isaac trusted him more, he’ll probably have more stats in the minutes he played. He’s another example of how players, regardless of college, could play well in the league despite the handicap. I think there’s a trend of getting random unheard of players in the first round as token picks. Ronnie Matias… you’re next!

8 BONBON CUSTODIO (SMB) – Despite playing for their PBL farm team, the Magnolia Wizards, Custodio’s first round drafting was a shock. It shocked more when he was getting valuable playing time from this talent-loaded team. Bonbon was a prized catch while playing in UE but after that, his popularity waned significantly. While critics call his game erratic and somewhat like a dog in heat, often there is a sense to his madness. People are now seeing his game that was somewhat tarnished starting from the alleged game fixing he did when he was in college.

7 BEAU BELGA (Purefoods) – I stated also Belga’s need to fully establish his skills in the PBL… but I am currently eating my words. The fact that he twice scored in double figures in Purefoods makes him young… ready… and armed. Traded to Burger King, he looked more of a vet than a rookie with his dominating presence and armed with Yeng Guiao’s confidence. He must learn to level his emotions though. He is bound to be an enforcer in this league with the way Guiao is morphing him… and for his foes a 6’6 version of Noli Locsin ramming towards you is never a good thing.

6 MARK BORBORAN (Air21) – This UE slotman welcomed his drafting to Air21. After all, this was a team in need of inside presence. Problem is, he is too short and too thin to bang bodies which prompted the Express to deal him for burly sophomore JR Quinahan. Borboran suffered the same fate as Quinahan in Alaska as a seldom used NOW SMALL FORWARD called to court when a blowout has become eminent. Now I’m guessing that for incoming PBA rookies, you have to learn to play quick and versatile in order to move up in your stardom.

5 SOLOMON MERCADO (Alaska) – Mercado’s entry to club was a definite yearning to get a player to ease out Jeff Cariaso. However, when the Painters offered Joe Devance, trading him with Eddie Laure was an easy way out. Mercado’s stock sprinted to big time when he helped Harbour Centre capture another title! He became one of the main men of the Painters, partnering with top pick Gabe Norwood for their dreaded Fire and Ice combo. He was an able passer and an awesome scorer. The injury he suffered in the Fiesta Cup is only a minor setback in his long career. He’ll go far in this league if he improves his currently awesome game.

4 ROB REYES (TNT) – Nephew of former backup forward Eric Reyes, it seems like this is the route he’ll most likely be in. The big man laden roster of the Texters is hurting his chances to evolve! Hell, even GILBERT LAO gets more action than him and if this isn’t pissing him off, I don’t know what will! He barely gets minutes and while we saw potential in the Fiesta Cup, injuries hampered his promising rookie season. Also, he plays somewhat distracted or discounted in his current state. Can’t blame him since he tried hard to get his DOJ and Bureau of Immigration papers approved in thinking he’ll become a star in the league. Well at least he won a championship…

3 JASON CASTRO (TNT) – TNT decided to let go of Jay Washington to just get this pick. It ended up as Jason Castro, a tough-as-nails scorer coming out of Philippine Christian U. At first, the drafting of Castro was dimmed questionable because the 4-time PBL MVP had a live contract to play for the Aussie-based NBL’s Singapore Slingers. When news broke out that the Slingers bolted out of the NBL, Castro opted to pull out from his contract and concentrate on his PBA career. The Slingers offered some things to make him stay like participating in various tilts but Castro opted to decline (Al Vergara was sent to the Slingers as replacement). Castro’s great all-around play helped TNT in claiming the team’s Philippine Cup Championship. Faults? He should work more on his shot selections.

2 JARED DILLINGER (TNT) – Dillinger’s first appearance playing in televised Philippine soil was during his stint as a Pampanga Buddy during the maiden season of the Liga. He looked lanky and he has speed and the size to prove effective. The first move I saw from him was a grabbed a rebound, dribbled it from coast to coast, jumped from the free throw line, and scored a soaring lay-up in front of two defenders. This was after he applied for the PBA Draft (The Pampanga Buddies is Talk N Text’s Liga farm team comprised of former UST players, PBA discards, and Aric del Rosario). Although the much buzzed talk of him being a top pick was more of downplaying Norwood’s chances, he did made TNT a force to reckon. Inconsistencies may be one of his weaknesses but a slasher with the size of a power forward is pretty much his bread and butter.

1 GABE NORWOOD (Rain or Shine) – Hands down, this is the ROOKIE of the YEAR! When Chot Reyes convinced Norwood to plane to the Philippines, the George Mason standout quickly saw his potential rising. Even before he flew in, he became a member of the RP team. He is an unselfish player (which is almost annoying at times) who knows how to get the boards and finish shots with extreme passion. He entered a team lacking sense and he transformed it into overachievers. He gave the team a winning season, a record placing in the Philippine Cup and its first semis berth! The wins they got in this season alone were twice what the team showed in their first two seasons! Plus, he looks like Barack Obama. And the guy knows how to be funny (If you saw his dunk where he had a Barack Obama shirt on) … HOW COOL IS THAT!


THE “GREAT PICK” TEAMS:

3 RED BULL / BARAKO BULL – One pick was trashed and the other pick wasn’t even signed but Jeff Chan and Larry Rodriguez are two names to look forward to next conference. And with the way the Boosters’ season finished, a couple of neophytes should be seen in their mix.

2 TALK N TEXT – While Reyes and Escobal looked like duds, Castro and Dillinger picked up the slack. This pair of slashers gave the team youth, scoring options, and better team play that resulted to the team’s Philippine Cup championship.

1 RAIN OR SHINE – Norwood, Mercado, and Tang are the future of the PBA and how cool is the fact that they are in one team. All gave important contributions to the squad. Norwood is basically a headache for backcourt and frontcourt players with his all-around game, Mercado with his scoring, and Tang with his orchestrating. The trio’s entry turned the team from a bottom-dwelling squad to a championship contender.


THE “DRAFT BUST” TEAMS:

3 PUREFOODS – While Don Allado is a great player… just like some of Purefoods’ great players… they could have seen the future with Beau Belga. When he was gone, all they had was a jittery Jonathan Fernandez. Not good.

2 ALASKA – They decided to trade Solomon Mercado which was good because they got Devance but again, they just kept their rookies in the bench. Talk about developing players!

1 STA. LUCIA – First of all, they picked players that didn’t do anything to the team. Sure, guys like Eman and Rob Reyes aren’t used much but these are players playing in highly-talented rosters. Kelvin Gregorio didn’t displace Norman Gonzales, Chito Jaime did dislodged Philip Butel… to become Melvin Mamaclay’s seatmate and Christian Cabatu’s pedigree didn’t even put a random reserve guy out of his place! This guys didn’t even see justified action even when Kelly Williams and Ryan Reyes were hampered by injuries!


ROOKIE OF THE YEAR PREDICTION:
GABE F’N NORWOOD!!!

ALL ROOKIE TEAM:
1) Gabe Norwood
2) Jason Castro
3) Jared Dillinger
4) Solomon Mercado
5) Bonbon Custodio

ALL ROOKIE SECOND TEAM:
6) TY Tang
7) Jeff Chan
8) Larry Rodriguez
9) Beau Belga
10) Erick Rodriguez


Now I could be wrong, but the draft order could be from the 2008-09 Philippine Cup rankings. And I don’t who traded their picks for what but from the scheme of things, this is what the 2009 Draft should look like.

1 BARAKO BULL – Pick anyone you think will help your team… not unless you already gave it away because you only think of spending less than fixing your team to become contenders!
2 COCA-COLA – The team needs a slasher. For sure, Japeth Aguilar will end up with the Bulls so this means this order belongs to Chris Ross.
3 PUREFOODS – They probably have gave this away, but I think what they need is a dominant PG.
4 BURGER KING – The only thing they lack right now is a scoring big man. I am guessing this pick would either be Jervy Cruz or Rico Maierhofer.
5 RAIN OR SHINE – They are OK in all spots except for the center and PF spot.
6 GINEBRA – Again, they probably traded this but if they didn’t now is the time to shop for a big man.
7 SAN MIGUEL – They probably gave this away too, and I think they need to relieve a star hopeful from ending up in their overly-stacked lineup.
8 STA. LUCIA – As much as anything, it is time for the Realtors to acquire scoring help.
9 ALASKA – They need height. A backup big man should do the trick to foil their woes.
10 TALK N TEXT – I doubt if they still have this pick but again, I think its better for them to establish their other young guys like Aljamal and Escobal.


One lengthy piece that would be proven to be wrong or otherwise. Try looking again and maybe you’ll catch my take on the top performers of the 2008-09 season.

GAME OVER!

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