Rookie gems | Inquirer Sports

Rookie gems

One of the pro league’s finest batches of greenhorns is lighting up the stats boards
By: - Reporter / @MusongINQ
/ 01:44 AM January 01, 2017

Tristan Tamayo/

Tristan Tamayo/

Leo Isaac and Ariel Vanguardia were right. The coaches of Blackwater and Phoenix Petroleum, respectively, are reaping the rewards of their wisdom in selecting Mac Belo and Matthew Wright as 1-2 in the last PBA Rookie Draft.

Halfway through the Philippine Cup and going into the holiday break of the young season, the two stalwarts of the Gilas Cadet national pool are dominating the major statistical departments among rookies, with both running first and second in points average, rebounds, minutes played and several other statistical categories.


Only four rookies averaged in twin digits in scoring after the cutoff mark, with Meralco’s Ed Daquioag and Star’s Jio Jalalon joining Wright, who norms a leading 17.5 points per game, and Belo with a second-best 17.0.


“They [this batch of rookies] definitely represent the future of the league,” says Grand Slam-winning coach Tommy Manotoc, who—despite being away from the coaching scene since 1983, when he steered the defunct Crispa Redmanizers to a second Triple Crown sweep—has been following the games.

Having handled some of the greatest players of all time in a career that included stops at U-Tex and San Miguel, Manotoc is particularly impressed with Belo, the consensus No. 1 pick who has so far been successful in turning around the fortunes of the Blackwater Elite.

“He has the makings of a superstar and, barring any unforeseen injuries, he will become one in the very near future,” Manotoc says of the 6-foot-4 Belo, who also averages 7.51 rebounds and 1.75 steals, both best among rookies.

“Belo has been ready for the PBA since two years ago,” Manotoc adds. “He’s just showing everyone what he is really made of and the future looks very bright for that young man.”

The coach of the prized pick shares Manotoc’s opinion. “There’s no doubt that he has the skill set to become a superstar,” says Isaac, who is enjoying his finest start as a PBA coach with the help of Belo.

“But he has to take care of his body—not that he doesn’t—because that is a crucial factor if he wants to have a long, fruitful career. And that is where we coaches come in, to guide him during that process.”


While Belo, Wright, Daquioag and Jalalon have shone early, others are still waiting for their chance, like San Miguel Beer’s Arnold Van Opstal, the former La Salle ace in the UAAP who shares his position on-court with the league’s most dominant player today.

Van Opstal has stayed on the bench more than he has gotten off it. June Mar Fajardo is at the peak of his game and Yancy de Ocampo is more than an able backup to Fajardo when coach Leo Austria needs one.

Kevin Ferrer of Barangay Ginebra is also awaiting his chance, but unlike Van Opstal at San Miguel, the former University of Santo Tomas gunslinger is being called upon more often. The reason: The shooting guard rotation of coach Tim Cone has become one of the oldest in the league.

Roger Pogoy of TNT KaTropa was reportedly on the wish list of the Texters’ management during the long deliberation process that decided on how the Gilas Cadets would be picked. But playing alongside—and behind—the likes of Jason Castro, Ryan Reyes and Larry Fonacier has made the former Far Eastern Tamaraw a project for that shooting-guard spot in the meantime.

Wright has been shooting the lights out for the Fuel Masters, leading all rookies in average field-goals made and total three-point shots converted with 5.83 per game and 13 total, respectively, in his first six games.

The 6-foot-3 Wright is No. 6 among all comers in the scoring department, which GlobalPort’s Terrence Romeo paces with 27 points an outing. Belo ranks two rungs below.

Wright is also the only rookie in the top 10 in the field-goals made at No. 9 and fifth in the three-points made category, higher than Marcio Lassiter,  who has the same playing style, and Castro, Asia’s best point guard in the last two Fiba Asia championships.

“If he (Wright) can develop a better all-around game, then he will be a hell of a player,” Manotoc says of Wright. “But there’s not doubt about it that he can shoot—and he’s a great offensive weapon for Phoenix.”

Vanguardia has said that what he wants Wright to do is play defense some more. That would obviously take some doing, but Manotoc feels that it’s something anyone can learn once he puts his mind to it.

Manotoc is also impressed with how both Jalalon and Daquioag compete.

“Jalalon has distribution skills I don’t see in the league anymore,” the former coach says. “He is very modern in the way he plays. No fancy stuff, little dribble, you know, unlike most of our point guards now who cannot create without handling the ball too much.

“He is one of the very few (point guards) who sees the floor very well in situational plays. Jalalon is a very efficient player.”

It’s still too early to tell, obviously, how the season’s talented rookies will fare in the league’s three conferences. The homestretch of the all-Filipino Philippine Cup has yet to happen and two import-laden conferences will still be played.

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But one thing is certain: Belo, Wright, Jalalon and Daquioag will figure prominently in the Rookie of the Year race—that is, if they will be the only ones left to dispute that once-in-a-lifetime award when the smoke of all the battles clears.

TAGS: 2017 Philippine Cup, Ariel Vanguardia, Blackwater Elite, Ed Daquioag, Jio Jalalon, Leo Isaac, Mac Belo, Matthew Wright, Meralco Bolts, PBA, Phoenix Fuel Masters, Star Hotshots

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