RE­MEM­BER THE NAME

THE FRESH­MAN CLASS OF 2K11 IS A WHO’S WHO OF NEW TAL­ENT, A RARE BREED WAIT­ING TO BURST ONTO THE COL­LE­GIATE SCENE.

Rebound Magazine - - NCAA|UAAPROOKIES - by Chris­tian D. Soler

To de­scribe the re­cruit­ing class of 2011 as promis­ing is an un­der­state­ment. To call it over­hyped is short­sighted. With all the hoopla sur­round­ing the neo­phytes of the sec­ond decade of the cen­tury, it’s safe to say they’re al­ready house­hold names just a few months re­moved from their first or sec­ond ju­nior-se­nior proms. The ques­tion on a lot of peo­ple’s minds, though, is whether they’re in for the long haul, or just some pass­ing fancy wait­ing to get old the soon­est.

The men among boys

The NCAA-UAAP Ban­tay Bata 163 All-Star fes­tiv­i­ties are al­ways greeted with a smile for the cause it aims to up­hold. Each year, ri­vals be­come friends for a day as the best high school and col­lege ballers from both leagues come to­gether to raise funds and put on a show. In 2010, the Ju­niors matchup seemed to over­shadow the tiff be­tween their older peers.

High­light­ing last year’s edi­tion was the matchup be­tween

the two big­gest names in high school ball: Kiefer Ravena and Baser Amer. Good bud­dies off the court, both Ravena (20.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.2 APG, 51 FG%) and Amer (15.6 PPG, 11.7 APG, 8.3 RPG) were al­ready cult heroes in Ate­neo and San Beda, re­spec­tively. Their last tele­vised show­down as high school le­gends was merely ic­ing on the prover­bial cakes of their sto­ried ju­niors ca­reers. Ravena was one of a few play­ers to have starred for his high school squad for the full four years, win­ning three straight ti­tles and re­ceiv­ing two UAAP Myth­i­cal Five se­lec­tions, while Amer had just copped the sea­son and fi­nals Most Valu­able Player awards af­ter lead­ing his vaunted Red Cubs to their sec­ond con­sec­u­tive NCAA ju­niors cham­pi­onship. As ex­pected, both the Ate­neo and San Beda com­mu­ni­ties ea­gerly awaited the de­ci­sions of their would-be stars. In the end, both stayed in their re­spec­tive schools, much to the de­light of their fu­ture men­tors.

“Kiefer is such a smart player. Ev­ery­one knows he can score, but he has that abil­ity to set up his team­mates and make the team bet­ter. He can shoot or break down his de­fender oneon-one, which makes him a dual threat,” Ate­neo Blue Ea­gles head coach Nor­man Black says.

“The likes of Amer don’t come of­ten, prob­a­bly once in eight years. De­spite be­ing a rookie, he can come in and take over a

game. With him on my team, there’s re­spect from the other guys be­cause they know what he can do,” re­marks San Beda Red Lions tac­ti­cian Frankie Lim.

Lim echoes the sen­ti­ments of many an ob­server, scout and coach: the tal­ent level of the 2011 fresh­man class is rare and well be­yond their age. Ravena and Amer are en­vi­sioned to start for their coaches in just their rookie cam­paigns. And so are NU guard Bobby Ray Parks and De La Salle big man Nor­bert Tor­res. The 6’3” Parks, a three-star re­cruit by Amer­i­can rater scout. com, re­ceived of­fers from Ge­or­gia Tech and four other NCAA Divi­sion I schools be­fore de­cid­ing to take his tal­ents to Sam­paloc. The Bull­dogs’ new coach, Eric Al­tami­rano, de­scribes Parks as “the most tal­ented player” he’s coached “at that age,” a re­sound­ing com­pli­ment con­sid­er­ing the sheer vol­ume of young tal­ent he has seen and men­tored the past decade. Tor­res, at 6’7”, first burst onto the lo­cal scene with the RP U-18 squad that fin­ished 7th in the 2008 FIBA-Asia U-18 Cham­pi­onships in Tehran, Iran be­fore serv­ing a res­i­dency pe­riod at DLSU that dis­qual­i­fies him from UAAP Rookie of the Year hon­ors (only fresh high school grad­u­ates are el­i­gi­ble for the award). His soft, feath­ery touch from out­side makes him one of the few phys­i­cal spec­i­mens with a skills set of a sniper.

Ravena and Amer may have lit up the Arena in San Juan that hu­mid Oc­to­ber af­ter­noon, but they weren’t alone as more than a hand­ful of kids who seem­ingly mas­quer­aded in col­le­giate bod­ies and con­sis­tently stuffed the box scores flanked them in the all-star af­fair. On Ravena’s side were Ate­neo team­mates Von Pes­sumal (12 PPG, 1.4 SPG) and Paolo Romero (10.8 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 64 FG%), Na­tional Univer­sity Myth­i­cal Five mem­ber Roque Es­toce (12.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG) and 2010 UAAP ju­niors MVP Kevin Fer­rer, a ver­sa­tile for­ward who tal­lied mind-bog­gling stats of 19.9 PPG, 13.1 RPG, 2.6 BPG and 1.9 SPG. Amer, mean­while, had fel­low Red Cub big men Ponso Got­ladera (12.1 PPG, 10.7 RPG) and Chris Javier (8.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 56 FG%), Le­tran play­maker Mark Cruz (20.6 PPG, 4.1 APG, 1.9 SPG) and Myth­i­cal Five se­lec­tions Gino Ju­mao-as of San Se­bas­tian (23.1 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 5.5 APG), Cris de la Paz of Jose Rizal Univer­sity (21.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.2 SPG) and Gelo Alolino, who led the league in scor­ing at 26.5 mark­ers a con­test while split­ting time be­tween the Per­pet­ual Help Al­talettes and Na­tional Un­der-18 Youth Team. All of them had be­come in­stant prospects for the 2011 col­le­giate wars and im­me­di­ate tar­gets of in­sti­tu­tions and their re­cruiters in what proved to be one of the rich­est pre-sea­son sum­mer har­vests in years.

The back­drop

Re­cruit­ment has al­ways been a bat­tle­ground in the the­ater of col­lege bas­ket­ball. Since time im­memo­rial, schools have made their own pitches to the best high school prospects from Manila and be­yond, com­pet­ing with each other but in dis­creet ways that of­ten eluded the pub­lic eye. That all changed in the sum­mer of 1999 when the two fiercest ri­vals in all of var­sity land de­cided to take things out in the open.

In Septem­ber 1998, the Univer­sity of Santo To­mas Tiger Cubs edged the Ate­neo de Manila Univer­sity Blue Ea­glets to the UAAP Ju­niors ti­tle. The Blue Ea­glets rode on the shoul­ders of a young BJ Manalo, who was ar­guably the best high school prospect that time. His stel­lar play not only failed to lift Ate­neo past its high school neme­sis, but wasn’t even enough to land him a spot on the Myth­i­cal Five, which was con­tro­ver­sially com­posed of five Tiger Cubs: MVP Al­wyn Espiritu, Andrew Aquino, Kel­win Ang, Mark Lin­daya and Mark Navarra.

A few months later, Manalo, who was pro­jected to form a lethal one-two punch with then in­com­ing sopho­more En­rico Vil­lanueva for the Ate­neo Blue Ea­gles, de­clared he would be at­tend­ing De La Salle Univer­sity for col­lege. His de­ci­sion sparked an up­roar in Katipunan and a frenzy along Taft. Al­le­ga­tions and choice words were hurled by both sides, fan­ning the flames in the process. While some watch­ers could

rightly ar­gue that cross­ing fences was com­mon­place well be­fore this episode, the Manalo trans­fer en­sured that schools would come in with what­ever they could of­fer, the stakes would be raised, and re­cruit­ing would mu­tate into a no holds barred af­fair where only the strong – in ev­ery sense of the word – sur­vived.

The af­ter­math

The 2000s also saw its fair share of pil­lag­ing. The 2002 San Beda Red Cubs fea­tured big-name re­cruits in JV Ca­sio, Jay Ag­bayani, Ford Arao, Mike Bal­dos, Arvin Bra­ganza and Yuri Es­cueta – none of whom donned the school’s se­nior col­ors. In 2007, the Univer­sity of the Philip­pines suc­cess­fully re­cruited four highly touted mem­bers of the Far East­ern Univer­sity Baby Ta­ma­raws that lost to Ate­neo in the fi­nals: Soc Rivera, Mark Lopez, Jo­mar Paulino and Dex­ter Ros­ales, while the squad’s play­maker, Jonathan Ba­nal, chose Mapúa over Mo­rayta. High school team­mates Jens Knut­tel and Jo­las Paguia stayed on, but that wasn’t enough for FEU’s top brass to en­gi­neer a piece of UAAP leg­is­la­tion that went on to be in­for­mally called the “Soc Rivera Rule”.

The new law would di­rectly lay its im­print on re­cruit­ment. One of its two chief clauses states that a high school grad­u­ate from a UAAP school could suit up for a ri­val UAAP squad’s col­le­giate unit the fol­low­ing year only af­ter se­cur­ing a clear­ance from his high school. If a clear­ance can­not be ob­tained, that player would have to sit out a year. The rule has paved the way for a few schools to make life a lit­tle harder for their would-be trans­fer­ees. The Var­si­tar­ian, UST’s of­fi­cial stu­dent pub­li­ca­tion, de­tailed how Tiger Cubs Kyle Neypes and Ced­er­ick Labingisa traded in their stripes for stints with NU in a mid-2010 ar­ti­cle. Neypes was later picked by Al­tami­rano to rep­re­sent the coun­try with the likes of Alolino, Fer­rer, Pes­sumal and Ravena in the 2010 FIBA-Asia U-18 Cham­pi­onships in Sana’a, Ye­men, while Labing-isa was part of that team’s train­ing pool. Both of them did not suit up for NU in 2010, an in­di­ca­tion of how the “Soc Rivera Rule” has shaped the re­cruit­ment process, but seem primed to play more than a spec­ta­tor’s role in the Bull­dogs’ Sea­son 74 ex­ploits.

The des­ti­na­tion

Not ev­ery­one fol­lowed in the foot­steps of Ravena and Amer. While Pes­sumal, Cruz and de la Paz stuck with Ate­neo, Le­tran and JRU, re­spec­tively; oth­ers tested the re­cruit­ing waters and even­tu­ally jumped ship. Romero made the short trip from Katipunan to the Univer­sity of the Philip­pines, Got­ladera joined Tor­res in DLSU, Javier en­rolled in the Univer­sity of the East, Ju­mao-as made the short trip from Recto to Mo­rayta, Alolino fol­lowed Al­tami­rano at NU and Es­toce bolted NU for Arel­lano Univer­sity in a wild mer­rygo-round.

Cruz, de la Paz, Got­ladera, Ju­mao-as and Romero are all ex­pected to fig­ure promi­nently in their squads’ ro­ta­tions. Cruz has shown he can di­rect traf­fic for the Knights in pick-up games and sum­mer league ac­tion, while Ju­mao-as’ ver­sa­til­ity at both guard spots gives re­turn­ing Ta­ma­raws coach Bert Flores a big­ger op­tion at the point. De la Paz has drawn rave re­views from JRU men­tor Vergel Me­ne­ses, who says he’s “lucky” the small for­ward stayed in Man­daluy­ong de­spite of­fers from other squads. Got­ladera and Romero, mean­while, got their first taste of big man ball in the pre­sea­son and passed their acid tests quite hand­ily with their abil­ity to stay un­fazed in testy sit­u­a­tions.

This bumper crop of young­sters will join the likes of Roldan Sara (DLSU), Gwyne Ca­pa­cio (Ate­neo), Rus­sel Es­coto and Cris Tolo­mia (FEU) and Yousef Taha and Josan

Nimes (Mapúa In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy) as some of the more notable first-year cagers scat­tered around NCAA and UAAP pro­grams, a tes­ta­ment to the di­verse na­ture of tal­ent go­ing around town. While it’s too early to pre­dict the kinds of ca­reers these guys will have, their names won’t be for­got­ten any­time soon.

PHOTO BY GER­ARD MABASA

PHOTO BY MICHAEL GOHU YU

PHOTO BY MICHAEL GOHU YU

PHOTO BY MICHAEL GOHU YU

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