The Tale of Two Teammates

One is said to be “better” than the other... and almost everyone agrees that THAT person is better than the other.

They are about to be teammates in the pro ranks and the “better one” is expected to be taken first.

But lo and behold, it was the lesser one who got the nod (photo grabbed from the PBA website).

First of all, I think Air21 has a say on who’ll they pick as their top guy. There are no questions about this. Also, Nonoy Baclao is not that bad of a player. If he develops an inside offensive game, then expect him to be the next Defense Minister. He has an arm that knows how to alter shots and of all the rookies, he has the body to contain the likes of Eric Menk, Sonny Thoss, Ranidel de Ocampo, and Asi Taulava.

The other guy that has that same capability?

None other than former Ateneo and current Air21 teammate Rabeh Al-Hussaini.

You see, we don’t know much about the future. Jojo Lastimosa was the rookie of the year in a season where teammate Jack Tanuan was the top pick. The first overall pick in history, Sonny Cabatu was not the top rookie in 1985 but it was his teammate Leo Austria who took home that prestige. The same can be said with Apet Jao when Gerry Esplana won ROY honors. The same can be said with Alex Araneta when Eugune Quilban won top rookie honors. The same can be said with Yancy de Ocampo when Renren Ritualo won top rookie honors.

And perhaps, Rabeh will become the top rookie despite Baclao being the top pick.

The first picks may have become automatic superstars but the pressure is twice as hard for them. Jun Limpot averaged in double figures expect for two seasons. Paolo Mendoza has averaged in double figures only twice in his career. Rich Alvarez has yet to average in double figures since emerging as the top pick in 2004 unlike James Yap who has netted twin digits in all of his seasons. For the players drafted second and so on, this is the time to prove their worth to the public that even if they are not the perceived best in the batch, they can still perform superbly.

And how is the Rabeh-Nonoy case different from RJ Jazul and Rob Lagabala? Jazul is fresh from a Smart-Gilas stint and has been powering the Letran Knights as their superstar for three consecutive years before he graduated in 2009. During his stay with Gilas, he has played in tournaments in the Middle East, Australia, US, Serbia, the Jones Cup in Taiwan, and the Stankovic Cup in Lebanon. Rey Guevarra, his Letran and Team Pilipinas teammate, injured himself playing for his college and he sat out most of the Gilas trips until the Stankovic Cup where most of the Gilas kids were playing for their teams in the UAAP.

Comparing Al-Hussaini and Guevarra, Jazul was the most important cog in the Smart-Gilas squad. Rabeh couldn’t get in Rajko Toroman’s good side and injuries hounded his stay with the squad. Guevarra was almost non-existent and was reduced to a cheerleader. Jazul plays behind Chris Tiu, JV Casio, Mark Barroca, and Dylan Ababou. With the additions of Marcio Lassiter and Chris Lutz, Jazul would find himself appearing in fewer games. However, staying with the squad would have given Jazul more knowledge with the point guard spot.

Rob Lagabala at 5’9 is a natural point guard. He ended his UAAP career in 2008 and he has played in numerous leagues in the Philippines. He was not in the radar of most teams and it shocked a lot of people when he was picked by Ginebra in the early part of the second round. Jong Uichico during his post-draft interview said that he was picking the best players left in the draft. Will people agree that Lagabala is better than Jazul? I for one don’t agree with this fact. Lagabala was never the top guy in UE and he had to fend for the PG spot there with Paul Lee, James Martinez, Toti Bandaying, Rudy Lingganay, and Marcy Arellano wanting the minutes as well. Plus Letran lived and died with Jazul while Lagabala can be absent in one match and people wouldn’t care as long as they have a point guard to sub for him.

However, one thing Lagabala has and Jazul didn’t was trust. Lagabala has the ability to run a team a la Al Vergara and not like Jazul who is pretty much a “raw” point guard as of this moment. The Kings trust Lagabala that he could direct the team well while Jazul for them is just an undersized shooting guard. Sure, Lagabala could find his self going back to the minor leagues since the Kings are overabundant with guards and Jazul could be happy as a Rain or Shine pick but in terms of rank, only eleven players were ranked higher than Lagabala than the fourteen men owning Jazul.

Perhaps the only reason why the Baclao-Rabeh rank is in question is because it will make or break the two careers. Will people see this as Scottie Pippen picked ahead of Michael Jordan? Probably they will. Rabeh would probably use this as a motivation tool to go berserk on his enemies. Expect him to demand the ball often, try to bully his self on the inside, make the opponents feel his presence and make people see that he is the much-deserving player to hit the top spot. Yeng Guiao admitted that the pick was meant to convey to Al-Hussaini that there are no star players in his squad. Yeng is still reeling from the Japeth Aguilar debacle that transformed his team from a contender to a team that lacked superstars.

But unknown to Yeng Guiao and company, they have given Baclao an overwhelming pressure to make himself an instant success for his squad. Baclao was contended as a second pick overall. He would have preferred to play behind a more flamboyant Rabeh’s shadow but instead, he was thrust to the spotlight.

He is the top pick on paper but in reality he is the sidekick of the second pick overall?

What if Guevarra, the eventual third pick who will be playing in more minutes now that Renren Ritualo and Sean Anthony has been dealt to Powerade, would claim more points and more minutes than him? He needs to develop his offense as soon as possible. He needs to make people believe that his defense is top notch. He needs to better his 5-point, 9-rebound, 2-block average in college and mimic Rabeh’s 16-point, 10-rebound game.

Baclao needs to demand the spotlight because gone are the days where Rabeh is the top guy.

Air21 must know that he is called the number one pick for the reason that he is the best in his batch!

Araneta, the last Atenean to be picked first, didn’t do well in the PBA. This former Alaska player who stands 6’6 and was said to be a dominating presence in the paint played in just five seasons and scored a sad 5.2 points per game. WAIT. The last Atenean WAS ACTUALLY Rich Alvarez, his current teammate. Alvarez has yet to get a good season ever since Shell left the league after his rookie season. He has bounced to Alaska, Red Bull, Purefoods, Ginebra and Air21 is not the team that would showcase his talent. Maybe Guiao believes that there is an Ateneo top pick curse and he doesn’t want Rabeh to suffer the same fate.

But what about Baclao?

Hopefully he’ll do wonders in the PBA because sad to say, if being picked second was harsh for Rabeh Al-Hussaini... being picked first overall seems like a cruel joke for Nonoy Baclao. Possibly we will experience "sibling rivalry" at the big man spot which was last seen when Menk was protecting his Tanduay spot against the determined Sonny Alvarado.

Game over.

1 comment:

  1. is not rich alvarez was the last atenean top pick? he was an eventual ROY.