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Bumper crop of PBA rookie talents as deadline lapses

By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter

PHILIPPINE Basketball Association (PBA) teams looking to shore up their rosters by way of the rookie draft will have many to choose from as a record number of aspirants submitted their applications.  

As the application deadline set by the league lapsed on Wednesday, a record of 97 players made themselves available for the 2021 Draft proceedings set for March 14.

The number broke the previous record of 91 set in the 2014 rookie draft.

The rookie talent pool includes top collegiate and pro-am standouts and 31 Fil-foreigners who are hoping to barge into Asia’s first play-for-pay league and take their basketball journeys to another level.

Among those who beat the deadline was La Salle point guard Aljun Melecio, who decided to forego his final playing year in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) and try his luck in the PBA draft.

A former UAAP Rookie of the Year, Mr. Melecio averaged 10.6 points (32% from threes), 3.2 rebounds and 3.7 and assists in 25 minutes in Season 82.

He was looking forward to playing his final year with the green and white, but the coronavirus pandemic scrapped all of UAAP Season 83, prompting him to move on and apply for the draft.

“There are just some things in life that we can’t control, and this was one of them. This was not the ending I expected for my time playing for the green and white. Being the team captain in my last playing year, I almost did not let go, but there are just some hard, but important decisions we must make,” Mr. Melecio said in a statement.

Also making himself available late was Filipino-American and FIBA 3×3 World Tour veteran Taylor Statham, who is seeking to extend his journey to the PBA after a stint in the National Basketball Association G League, collegiate career at Cal State Bernardino and pro work in places like China, Thailand, and Indonesia.

National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) most valuable player and Gilas Pilipinas cadet Calvin Oftana, too, has also applied for the draft.

Mr. Oftana is currently in the training “bubble” of Gilas at the INSPIRE Sports Academy in Laguna, where he is in contention for a roster spot in the national team seeing action in the third and final window of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers (ACQ).

The three players made the rookie pool for this year’s draft even deeper.

The aspirants also include top 3×3 players Joshua Munzon, Alvin Pasaol, Santi Santilla and Troy Rike, UAAP stars Will Navarro, Jun Manzo, Jerrick Ahanmisi and Jaydee Tungcab, NCAA stalwarts Ben Adamos, Larry Muyang and RK Ilagan, and Fil-foreigners Jamie Malonzo, James Laput, Franky Johnson, and Mikey Williams.

The PBA will now evaluate the applications and will come up with the final list of eligible draft applicants set to be released days before draft day.

Meanwhile, as of this writing, the PBA Board was holding a meeting regarding the plans of the league for Season 46 which is targeted to begin in April.

Among the topics of discussion was the holding of a special draft for Gilas Pilipinas just like in 2019.

Under the arrangement, teams will draft players from the pool, who will then be loaned to the Gilas as part of the latter’s buildup for international competitions, including the 2023 FIBA World Cup which the Philippines is one of the hosts.

The teams, however, will still have the rights to the players and will get them upon their Gilas release.

In 2019, Gilas PBA draftees were Isaac Go (Terrafirma), Rey Suerte (Blackwater), Matt Nieto (NLEX), Allyn Bulanadi (Alaska), and Mike Nieto (Rain or Shine).

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