Philippines sportsDraft stellar haul boosts Air21 cast

source: Joaquin Henson | philstar.com

With six draft picks in tow, Air21 brought in three players and used two slots to trade for future considerations as the Express solidified its lineup for the coming PBA season.

Team management was clearly satisfied with the haul that Air 21 passed on its sixth choice – No. 20 in the second round – in Sunday’s rookie sweepstakes at the Market! Market! in Taguig.

Air 21 team manager Allan Gregorio said yesterday selecting Nonoy Baclao, Rabeh Al-Hussaini and Rey Guevarra in 1-2-3 order was just what the doctor ordered for the team that posted an 11-27 overall record last season. Additionally, the Express dealt its No. 6 pick Sean Anthony to Powerade for RenRen Ritualo and a future choice to be determined in a meeting at noon today. It is likely the slot will be for 2011. Air 21 also traded its No. 18 pick to Powerade for the Tigers’ first round slot in 2012.

Before the draft, we studied our situation very carefully,” said Gregorio who was appointed team manager last month. “We looked at our salary level and where we were in relation to the cap. We looked at our 16 players and determined where we needed to cut or shore up.”

Gregorio explained that picking Baclao over Al-Hussaini was a calculated, psychological ploy to deliver a strong message that nobody is bigger than the organization. There was no intention to slight Al-Hussaini, widely considered the best player in the draft.

“In our mind, Rabeh was the No. 1 pick, no question,” said Gregorio. “But since we had the first three picks, it really didn’t matter who came ahead. We had spoken with Rabeh during his Smart-Gilas days and he told us as long as he was picked, he would be happy. So we thought of testing him, to give him a lesson in life. Now, we know he felt hurt. We’ll just have to manage his attitude. I don’t think it’s a big problem. It’s getting to know Rabeh a little more because he’s that special to us. We wanted to find out how he’ll react to this management decision.”

Gregorio said fans can expect a revitalized Air21 this coming season after a major facelift from top to bottom. Gone is the franchise’s long-time PBA governor Lito Alvarez who is now Customs commissioner. In Alvarez’ place is 33-year-old Johan Ramos whose father Lambert was a candidate as PBA commissioner in 2007. Ramos once played for the Ateneo junior varsity and is in charge of the business operations of the Lina group of companies. He joined the Lina conglomerate in 2003 and made his mark as president of Mail and More.

Recruited in recent trades were J. R. Quinahan from Talk ‘N’ Text, Marcy Arellano from Rain Or Shine and Josh Urbiztondo from Meralco. Gone are Ritualo (to Powerade), Beau Belga (to Meralco), Doug Kramer (to Rain Or Shine), Billy Mamaril (to Ginebra), Richard Yee (to Barako), Ramsey Williams (free agent) and Egay Billones (free agent). Holdovers are Ronjay Buenafe, Ronnie Matias, Carlo Sharma, Rich Alvarez, Wesley Gonzales, Erick Rodriguez, Leo Najorda and Wynne Arboleda.

The Express, playing as Burger King, was knocked out in the first game of the wildcards by Coca-Cola in the last Philippine Cup and also eliminated in the first game of the wildcards by Rain Or Shine in the Fiesta Conference.

Choosing Baclao ahead of Al-Hussaini was as unpredictable as Air 21 coach Yeng Guiao’s tactic of surprising opposing teams by using unconventional starting lineups. As a psychological ploy, it will relieve Al-Hussaini of the pressure of proving himself as the top rookie. Al-Hussaini, the tallest among 60 draft candidates at 6-7, was easily the most outstanding player in the recent five-day rookie camp, averaging 14.8 points and firing 28 to power the Whites to an 80-78 win over the Yellows in the finals.

If there are cracks in Rabeh’s attitude, we want to deal with the problem right away and arrest the skid,” said Gregorio. “This wasn’t just a test or a gamble but a lesson in life for Rabeh. He will come out of this a better person, a better player and a better teammate.”

New franchise Meralco came away with four rookies in the draft – Shawn Weinstein, Bam-Bam Gamalinda, Ford Arao and Khasim Mirza. Ginebra picked up three guards – John Wilson, Jimbo Aquino and Robert Labagala. Kings coach Joseph Uichico jokingly threatened to play “five small” with his overcrowded guard corps. The speculation is Ginebra will unload several of its veteran backcourt men. B-Meg, Alaska and Rain Or Shine chose two each with the Llamados tapping Pari Llagas and Val Acuna, the Aces naming Elmer Espiritu and Marvin Hayes and the Elasto Painters selecting Josh Vanlandingham and R. J. Jazul. Barako and Powerade settled for a pick apiece with the Energy Coffee taking Borgie Hermida and the Tigers, Jai Reyes.

San Miguel Beer and Talk ‘N’ Text had no picks.

by Joaquin Henson | philstar.com


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