Cream of the crop

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson () - August 31, 2008 - 12:00am

Fans like to call it D-Day because for 45 rookie applicants, today is the day of reckoning. D-Day could stand for either Draft Day or Dream Day. Whatever, it’s when the PBA lays out the welcome mat for rookies to be picked in two rounds at Market! Market! in the Bonifacio Global City this afternoon.

In all, 49 rookies applied for the draft. Four were struck out. Two didn’t show up for the two-day camp at Emilio Aguinaldo College – 6-7 Diomar Facun of the University of Manila (he would’ve been the tallest in the pool) and 5-10 Michael Olino of Rizal Tech (he would’ve been the oldest at 31). Two more were scratched out for failing to submit their original birth documents – 6-3 Charles Waters of Webster University (he was born in Clark Air Base, Angeles City) and 6-1 Chris Viardo of Pilgrim High School, Rhode Island (he was born in Hagen, Germany).

The oldest rookie hopeful is six-foot Ismael Junio of Letran. He turned 28 last January.

Rain or Shine, formerly Welcoat, owns the first overall pick and will likely choose 6-5 Gabe Norwood who is scheduled to plane in from State College, Pennsylvania, this morning. Norwood has played twice for the Philippine team in international competitions and is fresh from leading Hapee to the PBL finals.

According to Norwood’s local representative Mark Chan, the former George Mason University standout will arrive at 11:35 a.m. on a Korean Airlines flight. His point of origin was Pittsburgh. He will motor to Market! Market! straight from the airport.

The PBA approved Norwood’s application on the strength of an opinion made by Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez on the legitimacy of his claim for Filipino citizenship. Gonzalez’ opinion paved the way for the Department of Foreign Affairs to issue his passport which he used to represent the country twice in international competitions last year.

A Bureau of Immigration source reportedly told PBA lawyer Melvyn Martin a recognition certificate is not necessary in Norwood’s case because he already has a passport. Gonzalez’ written opinion also made an affirmation from the Department of Justice academic.

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Talk ‘N’ Text has the second choice and coach Chot Reyes is zeroing in on Jared Dillinger, a 6-5 swingman now playing for Pampanga in Liga Pilipinas. Dillinger, 24, averaged 9.7 points in 30 games, including 25 starts, for the University of Hawaii, an NCAA Division I school, as a senior this past season.

Magnolia has the third pick and will probably tap Solomon Mercado to shore up the Beverage Masters’ backcourt. The Phone Pals get another crack, No. 4, with the Coca-Cola slot acquired in the Asi Taulava trade last year and the betting is Reyes will select Jason Castro of Philippine Christian University (PCU). If Castro is chosen, Talk ‘N’ Text will be overloaded at guard, raising the possibility of trades. Another option is 6-6 Rob Reyes who if recruited by Talk ‘N’ Text, will make Jay Washington and Harvey Carey expendable.

Red Bull has the most picks with one in the first round and three in the second. Teams with three picks are Talk ‘N’ Text and Sta. Lucia Realty. Barangay Ginebra and Coca-Cola traded their picks and will not participate in the draft unless they negotiate last-minute deals.

Talk ‘N’ Text and Magnolia will pick twice in the opening round. The Beverage Masters will likely tap a big man for their second choice, what with Danny Ildefonso out for six months after undergoing repair surgery on both feet last Thursday. If Reyes is no longer available, coach Siot Tanquingcen could go for 6-4 Kelvin Gregorio who is touted to be another Chris Jackson.

Expected to be picked in the first round are Norwood, Dillinger, Mercado, Castro, 6-4 Mark Borboran of the University of the East (UE), Reyes of Flagler College, 6-6 Beau Belga of PCU, Gregorio of UE, 6-1 Kelvin de la Peña of Mapua and 6-2 Jonathan Fernandez of National University.

Second round possibilities are T. Y. Tang of La Salle, 6-3 Mark Yee of San Sebastian College of Cavite, 6-2 Patrick Cabahug of Adamson, 6-3 Jeff Chan of Far Eastern University, 5-11 Bonbon Custodio of UE, 6-4 Eder Saldua of the University of Mindanao, 6-1 Pocholo Villanueva of La Salle, 6-4 Christian Espiritu of the University of Sto. Tomas, 6-6 Larry Rodriguez of PMI, 6-6 Christian Cabatu of St. Benilde and 5-11 Pong Escobal of San Beda.      

The draft order is as follows:

First round – Rain or Shine, Talk ‘N’ Text, Magnolia (from Ginebra in three-way trade involving Rudy Hatfield, Rafi Reavis, Mark Telan and Gabby Espinas), Talk ‘N’ Text (from Coca-Cola in Asi Taulava trade), Alaska, Air21, Purefoods, Magnolia, Red Bull, Sta. Lucia Realty.

Second round – Talk ‘N’ Text, Rain or Shine, Air21 (from Ginebra in Ronald Tubid trade), Sta. Lucia Realty (from Coca-Cola in multi-player trade involving Denok Miranda, Alex Cabagnot and Kenneth Duremdes), Alaska, Purefoods (from Air21 in Paul Artadi trade with Ginebra), Red Bull (from Purefoods in Brandon Cablay trade), Red Bull (from Magnolia in three-way, multi-player trade involving Lordy Tugade and Romel Adducul), Red Bull, Sta. Lucia Realty.

For at least 25 players who won’t be picked, the consolation is they become unrestricted free agents with the freedom to try out for any team of their choice. 

An inspiring example of an undrafted player who patiently waited for his turn to break into the PBA is Alvin Pua. In 2004, the 6-2 1/2 guard was one of 18 hopefuls not drafted. Among the 28 draftees were Francis Mercado, Theodore Hawkins, Maui Huelar, Christopher Quimpo, Rhagnee Singco and Eric de la Cuesta – none of whom ever got to play in the PBA. In the last Fiesta Conference, Pua made his PBA debut with Sta. Lucia Realty – four years after he was snubbed in the draft.

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