The PBA Column: YES! YES! YES!!!

Finally my prayers have been answered!

The Postman and the Rain Man are out of Bench Land!

Perhaps the second best move to start the Fiesta Cup on a high note (the first is Sam Eman’s dissing of the SMC to play for Alaska), the Air21 Express reclaimed their former draft picks Yancy de Ocampo and Renren Ritualo for JR Quinahan, Aaron Aban, and Mark Yee.

The two went to the 2002 PBA Draft in high spirits after stirring PBL’s Welcoat to multiple championships. Yancy was picked first while UAAP standout Renren slid to the eighth spot with De Ocampo, Rafi Reavis, Omanzie Rodriguez, Chris Calaguio, Homer Se, Migs Noble, and Eric Canlas drafted ahead of Renren. Gilbert Lao, Aries Dimaunahan, and Jason Misolas are the only players still in the league that were drafted below Ritualo (Rodriguez, Noble, Canlas, and Se have yet to play this season). Despite not being Air21’s (then called FedEx) top rookie and despite being Vergel Meneses’ backup, Ritualo claimed Top Rookie honors. He became a superstar when Meneses was traded to Red Bull for Se and he became the team’s chief gunner. He was hailed as the league’s next Allan Caidic because of his accurate three-point scoring. He was even hailed as the designated scorer in the FIBA Tokushima Games… which turned out to be his nightmare.

When Chot Reyes resigned as SMB coach to mentor the RP Squad and subsequently, Talk N Text, Ritualo was sent to the (then-dubbed) Phone Pals alongside Patrick Fran for Leo Avenido and two first round selections (which turned out to be Yousif Aljamal in 2007 (this pick was later returned to TNT) and Rob Reyes in 2008). Here, Renren’s defensive inabilities were exposed. However, playing limited minutes in the doomed team was not his sole problem. Back in the Philippines, a certain Macmac Cardona has been elevating his game to a higher level. When they played together and began to fight for minutes, Cardona emerged victorious because he was an inside-outside player armed with pesky defense. The additions of Jared Dillinger and Jason Castro also made his minutes scarce. We also saw his shooting go down which was a result of his lack of confidence.

Yancy de Ocampo has seen worse, actually. I remember when a rumor gone out that a USBL team was interested to acquire his services (I think it was the Valley Dawgs that also acquired the services of Bong Alvarez, Mark Magsumbol and Vince Hizon (?) to play for their squad). He played for the Lina franchise during his rookie year (2002-04) but was dealt to the Phone Pals (2004-05) and then returned to FedEx (2005-06) but found himself again as a Texter (06-10). Here’s the thing: Yancy posts good numbers as a Express and then those numbers deteriorate because TNT coaches bench him endlessly. If you look at his numbers, you’ll actually see that he has consistent stats with the minutes given to him. Yancy has had bad breaks every time he dons a TNT jersey and he’ll might as well retire altogether if he returns to the MVP franchise.

With the May 10 Elections approaching, perhaps we will see less Yeng Guiao and more Junel Baculi, who’ll probably take over the coaching reins. Baculi, the current Air21 assistant coach, was a former champion coach with Hapee and Welcoat in the PBL. Coincidentally, during Welcoat’s dominating PBL stint, amongst the players in his roster were Eugene Tan, Celino Cruz, Don Allado, Eric Canlas, RENREN RITUALO, and YANCY DE OCAMPO.

See those all caps players?


Do not let their current stats fool you. All of a sudden, Air21 gained big in this trade. Yancy is the center that the Express lack. He will now gain the plays designed for a certain Japeth Aguilar. Once his confidence picks up, expect him to body up alongside Beau Belga, Carlo Sharma, and Richard Yee. Yancy is such a great potential that at 30, he needs to do his best if wants to have a glorious end to his career. Same goes for Renren. Ronjay Buenafe, Wesley Gonzales and Ronnie Matias will likely share the SG and SF spots with Ritualo. As of this moment, the Express has only Buenafe and Alex Cabagnot as true and blue scoring threats for the squad. With Renren around, they can go small ball with Cabagnot orchestrating, Ronjay as the other wingman, and the import in the deep with either Yancy or Belga manning the post. In an instant, Air21 has a solid starting five on paper. Hopefully Ritualo and De Ocampo would make this stint worthwhile because except for Barako Bull, Air21 is the next best thing if they want themselves to get significant stats.

Just because the only players TNT got were bangers doesn’t mean they are bad choices. What TNT got is a burly center which is like a wall to his opponents (Quinahan), the first San Sebastian-Cavite player in the PBA that plays a lot like a young Junthy Valenzuela (Yee), and a seldom-used player that can explode when asked (Aban). These guys are great for a team that lacked role players. TNT is abundant in scorers but they have little to zero shock troopers. Having Quinahan in the fold would give Reyes another big body to double with Ranidel de Ocampo, Nic Belasco, Ali Peek and Harvey Carey. Quinahan is also a swat artist that had consistent stats ever since he started playing more than 20 minutes a game. Mark Yee can provide a pit bull-like stance on defense but expect him to shoot the lights out when he gets on scoring mode. Aban will get his time but I doubt if he could break in the positions Cardona, Castro, Jimmy Alapag, and now, Yee hold. I can even see Pong Escobal getting normal minutes in this setup.

So this is great for both camps! This trade was third party-free though, since the PBA has okayed that TNT and Air21 are free to deal with each other. These two teams are no strangers to one another since they’ve been players every year… and somewhat all the time.

But wait… does this mean that TNT will again use Air21 as their farm system squad…


Game over.


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