BY NOLI CORTEZ and MICHAEL JUGADO
TERRAFIRMA had planned on making Jamie Malonzo the top pick overall in the PBA Season 46 Draft set March 14.
But Dyip coach Johnedel Cardel also had a Plan B, in case 6-foot-7 La Salle and Gilas Pilipinas stalwart Justin Baltazar opt to join the draft at the last minute.
“Kailangan may Plan B kami kung sakaling magkatotoo iyung mga usap-usapan,” Cardel told Malaya-Business Insight. “Kung magkatotoo, I think we’ll be ready with our choice.
“Pag pumasok ‘yung Baltazar, iyun ang mabigat doon. Kasi height is might pa rin sa basketball,” Cardel said. “So mag-Ba-Baltazar kami. Kasi best talent ‘yun na big man.”
As the deadline for the submission of papers for the draft lapsed at 5 p.m. yesterday, only La Salle’s Aljun Melecio, among the promising amateur stars, had made the jump, likely leaving Cardel to proceed with his Plan A.
Melecio said it was a difficult decision he had to make.
“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,” Melecio said on his Instagram account yesterday.
“This is a painful announcement, but it is one I have to make: I am entering the 2021 PBA Draft,” he added.
Terrafirma has been hounded by the lack of a dependable big man throughout its relatively short PBA stint.
Hope came the Dyip’s way when they were able to nab 6-foot-8 Isaac Go in the special draft for Gilas Pilipinas Cadets in 2019, but the Ateneo center cannot play a pro game until he is let go by the national team.
That same fate could befall some of the big names in the draft should the PBA and SBP decide on another special draft following their meeting today.
Cardel said they will stick to their original plan should another special draft be decided on. “Mas Malonzo pa rin kami,” he said.
Giving Cardel some optimism is the fact the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifying window, initially set in a Clark bubble next month, has been cancelled due to the country’s prevailing travel restrictions amidst the COVID pandemic.
That window is reportedly set to be played out in Qatar in March.
Cardel wants a special draft dispensed with and those in the Gilas pool be allowed to play for the PBA teams which picked them.
“Puwede namang pumasok sa PBA, then saka sila kunin ng Gilas. Dapat ganoon,” said Cardel, a former player with the national junior, youth and men’s teams.
“Parang noong araw, na kapag walang laro iyung Philippine team, laro ka sa mother team mo,” added Cardel. “Hindi naman amateur lahat ang national team natin, kukuha pa rin Gilas players from the PBA.”
Reigning NCAA MVP Calvin Oftana, Ateneo big man William Navarro, and former University of the Philippines wingman Jaydee Tungcab have applied for the Draft and are expected to be chosen in the special Gilas Pilipinas Draft.
Malonzo, another player La Salle standout, is considered by many as likely the No. 1 pick overall along with fellow Fil-Am Joshua Munzon.
The likes of James Laput, Alvin Pasaol, Troy Rike, Leonard Santillan, RK Ilagan, Franky Johnson, Jun Manzo, David Murrell, Larry Muyang, Andre Paras, Jerie Pingoy, Tzaddy Rangel, Taylor Statham, and Mikey Williams are also expected to be picked in the first round.