The 2012 PBA Rookie Draft could go down in history as one of the deepest drafts ever. The only sure thing last August 19 was that Petron Blaze was going for June Mar Fajardo from the University of Cebu as the top pick, but the rest of the field was wide open for the other 57 names who applied for the draft.
The hulking Fajardo achieved near-urban legend status due to his height and width -- a rare combination for Filipino basketball players. Though he wasn’t exactly dominant during his one stint with the San Miguel Beermen at the Asian Basketball League, the potential of a man his size was just too juicy for any of the top PBA teams to pass up.
For a deep team like Petron, despite relieving Ato Agustin of his coaching duties (supposedly to concentrate on his duties in Pampanga) and promoting Olsen Racela to head coach, the 22-year-old nicknamed “The Kraken” could serve as the franchise’s cornerstone for the next decade.
Picking second, Alaska mentor Luigi Trillo was left with the unenviable task of choosing which of the next available players would fit his squad. After weeks of speculation, the Aces pulled a somewhat of a surprise by picking Calvin “The Beast” Abueva.
The triple-double threat from the San Sebastian Stags is a bit undersized to play power forward in the PBA, but no one will deny that he has skills aplenty. Abueva might not fit the classic mold of a player on a team owned by Fred Uytengsu, but his talents and numbers were really just too much for the Alaska braintrust to dismiss.
The first real surprise of the draft came with the No. 3 pick, also emanating from Petron. While some felt that power forward Cliff Hodge could have gone to Alaska at No. 2, others thought that with Abueva gone, it would be a no-brainer for Petron to then pick the Fil-Am who last played for NLEX in the PBA Developmental League.
Instead, the Blaze Boosters went with lefty swingman Alex Mallari.
Recently seen showing his wares for Big Chill in the D-League, Mallari is seen as someone who plays like Talk ‘N Text’s Jared Dillinger. Big for the small forward position, he shores up one of the perceived holes in the Blaze Boosters’ packed lineup.
Hodge was finally selected by the Meralco Bolts at No. 4, and has the potential to crack Coach Ryan Gregorio’s starting lineup because of his size and skill set. A former member of the Smart-Gilas program, Hodge will help aging veteran Asi Taulava man the Bolts’ frontcourt while adding to a team that relied too heavily on Mac Cardona and Sol Mercado for offense.
Another surprise came with the fifth pick as Barako Bull chose former Far Eastern University Tamaraw big man Aldrech Ramos. Once an MVP contender in the UAAP, Ramos had largely fallen off the draft boards for most due to other names rising. Yet on this Sunday, Aldrech was back in the spotlight and donning the colors of Coach Junel Baculi’s Barako Bull squad. It didn’t last, however, as 15 minutes later, he was traded to B-Meg (now renamed San Mig Coffee) in exchange for their own recent trade acquisition, Sean Anthony.
Tiu good to be true?
At this point in the draft, it looked like the hugely popular Chris Tiu was going to end up with the hugely popular Barangay Ginebra Kings. The former team captain of the Ateneo Blue Eagles and Smart-Gilas is famous for his many endeavors outside the basketball court, and for being a marketer’s dream.
Though not as desired as Fajardo, rumors flew that numerous teams were interested in drafting the man behind the Happy Lemon chain. Ginebra’s legions of fans waited wistfully for Tiu’s name to be called at No. 6 and instead heard the name Chris… Ellis.
The lanky 6-foot-6 Ellis was another high-flyer from NLEX and Smart-Gilas who can play both forward positions for the Gin Kings.
For Governors Cup champions Rain or Shine, Coach Yeng Guiao had made it known a few weeks earlier that his team wasn’t really looking to change their roster much. After all, they had just won the most recent PBA conference with a team of low draft picks and PBA castoffs. But when the opportunity to draft the popular Tiu presented itself, the Elasto-Painters weren’t going to let it slide.
Guiao reasoned that Tiu could help step in for injured Rookie of the Year Paul Lee, who still has months to go before coming back from shoulder surgery. Underrated as a defender, Tiu now goes to a team built on defense and toughness. This early, burly Beau Belga has already volunteered to act as Tiu’s bodyguard on the court but can’t promise Tiu won’t get bruised during daily practice.
For Tiu, Rain or Shine provides an opportunity to reunite with high school teammate and old buddy TY Tang, his former partner in Xavier School’s championship teams of the early 2000s.
The rest of the draft would see minor surprises here and there. Ginebra chose Keith Jensen at No. 8. PBA newcomers Global Port Batang Pier closed out the first round by choosing Vic Manuel back-to-back with Jason Deutchman.
The second round of the draft opened with Air-21’s first draft pick, former Mapua Cardinal Yousef Taha. Former San Beda Red Lion Dave Marcelo led a contingent of four draftees to Barako Bull: Marcelo (No. 2), Lester Alvarez (No. 5), Emman Monfort (No. 6) and Woody Co (No. 8).
San Mig Coffee added former National University Bulldog Jewel Ponferrada, while Global Port chose AJ Mandani. Meralco took Kelly Nabong at No. 7 in the second round, Alaska chose former University of the East Red Warrior Raffy Reyes, while Talk ‘N Text was the final pick of the second round with Jaypee Belencion.
A total of 39 players got drafted in five rounds on August 19, which means 19 players were left in the lurch. Whether any of those 39 will make an immediate or gradual impact on Asia’s oldest play-for-pay league will largely be something only time can tell.
But as with every season of the PBA, the entry of new blood meshing with experienced veterans is sure to spice things up for PBA fans everywhere.