Fil-Ams in PBA D-League hoping to get second look from PBA scouts
Scorching heat engulfed the metro, and the competition was just as intense inside the Ynares Sports Arena.
The atmosphere was comparable to that of a championship game. It was, after all, a match up that would eventually be the championship duel of the Aspirants’ Cup. But for today, it’ was just an elimination round meeting between Cagayan Valley and the powerhouse Hapee.
For pint-sized guard Abel Galliguez, with the game on the line, he knew this was his shining moment.
With the game tied at 77 and the Rising Suns holding possession, the Houston native took matters into his own hands.
“It’s a tied ballgame, and I told my teammates, ‘Let’s put this game away and I’m going to take the last shot.'”
Dribbling past two screeners after initially faking a hand-off, Galliguez got free and had all the breathing room he needed. Forget that he only made two of his last 13 tries from behind the arc, but on his 14th heave from rainbow country, he definitely made it count.
“My teammates trusted me and the shots fell when it counted,” quipped Galliguez.
The ball swished through the net with one second to spare, sending the packed house in jubilation as the Rising Suns escaped with an 80-77 win.
But for the 25-year-old Galliguez, nailing that shot in front of hundreds of spectators including national team head coach Tab Baldwin and Talk ‘N Text team manager Jimmy Alapag included was all about leaving an impression.
For close D-League observers, Galliguez has already built a strong reputation of knocking down big shots when his team needs it the most. And this is what Galliguez hopes the decision makers would see. After all, in the next few months, he and other hopefuls, are going to declare for the 2015 PBA Draft.
Challenge for Fil-Ams
“That’s the plan,” said the 5-foot-10 guard. “To us guards coming from States, it’s harder. We really have to stand out because we didn’t play in the UAAP or NCAA, so it makes it harder to stand out especially with this country having great guards. We try to do our best to stand out than the rest of the other guards.”
But it isn’t just the John Brown University alumnus who is hoping to raise some eyebrows.
Three days before that memorable Galliguez game-winner, Cebuana Lhuillier got its own dose of Fil-Am punch in the form of Simon Enciso.
The 5-foot-11 “Filipino D-Rose” had a breakout game, finishing with 24 points to help the Gems clinch a quarterfinal berth to also earn him notoriety among the members of media covering the beat.
“A couple of teammates called me that, but that’s no big deal,” he said.
But more that the fanfare that came along his Twitter name (he has changed it since), Enciso has showed that he’s more than just a slasher, improving his range as the season went before his squad got the boot from Cagayan Valley in the conference’s semifinals.
For Enciso, this stint in the D-League is just the first step to his dream. But he knows it would take more than huge scoring nights to get a second look from PBA scouts and get a coveted spot in the PBA.
“At the end of the day, I just want to go out there and play hard. It’s not about how many points you score, but what you can do for the team. I feel that’s a bigger concern than the stats,” he said. “Everybody can score 40, but if you’re losing, what does that 40 mean? I’d rather have a balanced scoring team and get the W than have 40 and get a loss.”
Enciso and Galliguez are just one of the few up-and-coming Fil-Ams strutting their wares in the D-League. Aside from the two, Cagayan Valley’s Alli Austria and RJ Dilay comprise a promising yet overlooked crop of Fil-Ams looking to ascend to the PBA.
Band of brothers
Though not as highly touted as consensus top pick in this year’s draft Moala Tautuaa, or even guys like Stanley Pringle and Chris Banchero, all four are determined to make a mark for themselves. And it’s not surprising that these guys have formed a bond, striving in the developmentals in hopes of one day making it to the big leagues.
All living in the Mandaluyong area, they consider themselves as close as brothers— hanging out, watching movies, and even working out together despite Enciso playing on another team. But the connection actually has come a long way as Enciso and Austria both grew up from the same area in San Francisco.
“We’re real close. Alli is my best friend. We’ve been playing since third grade. It’s been a brotherhood ever since. We all hang out after games, have some dinner together. We have a close friendship,” Simon said.
“It goes back to the States,” quipped the 24-year-old Austria. “We played together, played against each other, and we work out together.”
From there, the two went to the Philippines, with Austria going first before Enciso followed a year after to try their luck in the local basketball scene.
“I met RJ and Abel when we first moved out here,” recounted Austria, as the three of them joined the inaugural D-League Draft in 2013. “We were the only Fil-Ams in the tryouts so we had the same goal and that’s to make it to the PBA. We push each other.”
As fate would have it the three would eventually team up in Cagayan Valley despite being drafted by different squads. In the next D-League Draft, Enciso was plucked in the third round by the Gems.
The Rising Suns admitted that they tried to get their peer to join them in Cagayan Valley, but Enciso said that thought it would’ve been fun joining forces with his brothers, he’s already satisfied with his place in Cebuana.
“I just had a decision to move or not and I decided not to,” said Enciso. “It turned out to be the best decision for me because Mo came to Cebuana, but I would’ve loved to play with them and it would’ve been fun. It would’ve been like AAU basketball back home and it would’ve been a great experience either way.”
And the decision was just fine with the rest of their crew.
“It’s weird playing against Simon. The competitive nature always shows up, but off-the-court, it’s nothing but respect and love for each other,” said Austria.
Galliguez also have no problem squaring it off against his Enciso because at the end of the day, they would still look out for each other no matter which team they belong to.
“That’s how it is. It’s a healthy competition between friends. This is how we grew up, competing with our brothers, friends, to be able to have bragging rights with each other. Ultimately, I want him to succeed and make it to the PBA and I know he wants the same for us,” he said.
And they already have some guys to look up to.
Jimmy Alapag and Harvey Carey, JJ Helterbrand and Mark Caguioa, Sol Mercado and Gabe Norwood are just some of their fellow Fil-Am players who have had a deep sense of brotherhood as they slowly forged their destiny in the PBA. And all four are hoping to follow those guys’ footsteps.
“We think of ourselves that we want to be like them, having the time of their lives,” said Galliguez.
“I think it will be a big achievement. That’s why we came here, left home, and pursued our dream of playing basketball,” said Dilay, 25, who hailed from Morton Grove, Illinois. “It will be a great accomplishment to do that and I know we’ll all be grateful for the opportunity.”
Enciso hopes that they can all walk up that stage and hear their names called out come draft day on August.
“It would be great,” he said. “I feel like we’re the next Fil-Ams in line to do the same. I wish the best for every Fil-Am and I hope we see each other in the league and have the same friendship that we have.
But Austria knows that all success stories start with a dream, and that can only happen if all of them take that first step.
“Hopefully, we all get drafted,” he said. CFC
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