Getting a big man as your top pick— either in the PBA or the NBA—has always been the norm. Not unless there’s someone out there who can make an immediate impact and take the league by storm.
It was a situation which happened in the NBA in the 1984 Rookie Draft when the Portland Trailblazers opted to get Sam Bowie, a 7-foot-1, a University of Kentucky standout, who was selected ahead of Michael Jordan.
Jordan, of course, ended up with the Chicago Bulls, who also got an offer from the Philadelphia 76ers for the rights on the future GOAT for The Doctor Julius Erving.
Maybe Portland felt there was no need for Jordan in the squad since the team already had a Clyde Drexler, who plays the same position as the most outstanding player who just won an Olympic gold medal a few months before and the hero of the North Carolina Tar Heels’ 1982 NCAA championship.
As it turned out, the Trailblazers just missed greatness as they were sold to the idea that Bowie, who spent most of his playing career on the sidelines due to a series of serious injuries, would be the second coming of Bill Walton, the man responsible in giving the squad its only NBA championship in 1977.
Through the years, be it in the NBA or the PBA, big men have always been the priority—whether it’s a traditional post up big or a versatile big who can practically do almost everything.
We’ve seen Kareem Abdul-Jabbar becoming a consensus No.1 pick in 1969 and his rights had to be determined by a coin toss, landing him a spot at Milwaukee. Hakeem Olajuwon was the No.1 pick in 1984 and was succeeded the following season by Patrick Ewing. Both of them ended up as two of the best big men ever in the league. Shaquille O’Neal’s power and size were hard to pass up and he became the top pick in ‘92 while Tim Duncan’s attitude, desire and complete post package made him an ideal partner for David Robinson so he became the top of the class in ‘97.
In the PBA, size has always been a necessity and in a league where big men are hard to come by, it was like saying getting a player 6-foot-5 and above as your No.1 pick as compulsory. “You cannot teach size” is a phrase always used by PBA coaches. Which is why it’s not surprising that the PBA’s first ever top overall rookie pick was Sonny Cabatu, a 6-foot-5, two-time PABL MVP, who for most of his time playing in the big league, provided comic relief and acted as one of his team’s tough guys.
Alaska had to fire its head coach, Tony Vasquez, when he defied management’s order to get the talented Dondon Ampalayo, who ended up as the Rookie of the Year and became part of Ginebra’s first champion team that season, as the mentor chose Rey Cuenco, a 6-foot-4 center/forward instead, in 1986.
Purefoods selected Jack Tanuan as the No.1 pick in the draft in 1988, instead of getting Ronnie Magsanoc as the Hotdogs chose size over skills, knowing they had already secured Al Solis at the point.
Then, of course, you have the best big men ever selected—from Benjie Paras, the only PBA Rookie/MVP, Jun Limpot, Dennis Espino, Marlou Aquino, Danny Ildefonso to June Mar Fajardo, the reigning six-time MVP.
In the coming PBA Rookie Draft, expect teams to get a big man before choosing the best talent available and the way things stand, we see a bevy of sizable players to choose from with 6-foot-10 James Laput and 6-foot-6 Jamie Malonzo from La Salle, 6-foot-8 Ben Adamos from University of Perpetual Help, 6-foot-7 Tzaddy Rangel fom Alab Pilipinas and 6-foot-6 Troy Rike and 6-foot-5 Leonard Santillan from the Philippine 3 x 3 squad. Larry Muyang, a 6-foot-5 banger from Letran, has also signified his intentions to turn pro.
And if Justine Baltazar, the 6-foot-8 center from La Salle, would also opt to join the Draft, he would throw himself as a potential top overall rookie pick as well.
Outside of the big men, there are a lot more talented players teams could select and this year’s Rookie Draft could be the deepest cast in years. Joshua Munzon and Alvin Pasaol, the country’s top 3 x 3 players, have signified their interest to join the Draft, so as Alab Pilipinas’ top players like Jason Brickman, Brandon Rosser, Jeremiah Gray and Andrei Caracut. Jerrick Ahanmisi, younger brother of Maverick Ahanmisi of Alaska, is also going to turn pro and MPBL standouts Dhon Reverente and Med Salim are joining as well.
Calvin Oftana, the reigning NCAA MVP, has also contemplated of joining the big league, and his potential entry would certainly add depth to the Rookie aspirants’ cast.
Without the PBA D-League, the PBA restricted its requirement of having players to see action in its supervised amateur league, which means players will have an easier time applying for the Rookie Draft.
This year’s Draft would definitely have a bumper crop of talented players, but from all these individuals, expect the big men to be given the highest priority, unless of course, there’s one player out there who can make a big splash.
We’re looking forward to the 2021 PBA Rookie Draft.