Free agency not a bad thing

source: Joaquin Henson |

For the 42 draft applicants snubbed in last Sunday’s PBA rookie sweepstakes, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, free agency may be the beginning of a new lease on life as now, the “descamisados” (shirtless or those without jerseys) aren’t restricted to try out for any team.

Don’t cry for the “descamisados” or so the song from the musical “Evita” goes.

Those who weren’t picked are free to join the team of their choice – unlike the 18 named in the draft – but there are no guarantees. A free agent may be signed for just 30 days at a salary far less than what a drafted rookie could earn. The least a player in a lineup can receive on a 30-day contract is P30,000 – compared to as much as P150,000 for a drafted rookie. Still, the situation isn’t hopeless.

In last year’s draft, 33 of 52 hopefuls weren’t picked but four “descamisados” made their way to the PBA just the same. They were Josh Urbiztondo, Bruce Viray, Ramsey Williams and Bryan Faundo.

Several undrafted players from past years also saw action in the PBA last season. The “unchosen” ones were Nurjan Alfad (2004), Jerwin Gaco (2005), Christian Coronel (2005), Chico Lanete (2006), Al Vergara (2006), Don Dulay (2006), Chad Alonzo (2006), Dennis Daa (2006), Erick Rodriguez (2006), Reed Juntilla (2007) and Mark Yee (2008).

In past seasons, undrafted players who made it to the PBA included Paeng Santos (2000), Philip Newton (2002), Egay Echavez (2003), Alvin Pua (2004), Froilan Baguion (2005), Ron Capati (2005), Ronnie Bughao (2006), Jonathan Aldave (2006), Philip Butel (2006), Rob Sanz (2006), Chris Baluyot (2007), J. R. Aquino (2007) and Lawrence Bonus (2008).

The undrafted players should realize that getting picked is no assurance of a contract. In last year’s draft, San Miguel’s first round pick James Sena never got to play in the pros and neither did second rounders Edwin Asoro, Sean Co and P. J. Walsham.

So the bottom line is still performance, what a player can do on the floor. Being drafted opens the door to a contract but it’s not a sure ticket. A free agent may even dislodge a drafted rookie in tryouts for a roster spot – it depends on what a player brings to the table.

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The consolation of an undrafted player is he will be free to choose a team to try out for. He isn’t bound to any franchise. He can size up which team is in the best position to use his talents, which team he will be comfortable playing for because of its system, organization, coaching staff and players. It’s unlike a drafted player who has no choice in the matter until he is released and becomes a free agent if an offer sheet is not tendered within five working days from the rookie draft.

Last Sunday, two draft slots were unused as Powerade passed on No. 19 and Air 21 on No. 20, leaving 19 drafted players of a possible 21. In contrast, all 20 slots were taken up last year.

Of the 19 chosen, only two were not in my pre-draft list – No. 12 Robert Labagala and No. 13 Val Acuna.

Labagala, 26, applied for the draft last year but didn’t show up for the rookie camp along with FEU’s Marlon Adolfo and NU’s Raymond Aguilar. So the three were struck out from last year’s cast. They decided to try their luck instead this year. Adolfo and Aguilar weren’t picked but the 5-8 Labagala was tapped by Ginebra.

Labagala played five years for UE and is a cat-quick point guard from Cebu. Acuna, 24, also suited up for the Red Warriors and teamed with draft picks Nonoy Baclao and Elmer Espiritu on the Philippine Patriots squad that captured the first Asean Basketball League (ABL) championship this year. Acuna was B-Meg’s No. 13 pick.

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Six players who were snubbed but could find their way to the PBA are FEU’s Alfredo Gerilla, University of Hawaii’s John Smith, UE’s Rudy Lingganay, UE’s Hans Thiele, UST’s Mark Canlas and San Beda College’s Jay-R (Baby Shaq) Taganas.

Gerilla, 25, stands 6-3 3/4 and is a strong power forward. The Tacloban native had an abbreviated career at FEU, leading to speculation as to why he was undrafted, but came back to make waves in the PBL, Liga and Tournament of the Philippines (TOP). Smith, 24, is a 6-1 point guard with a deadly outside jumper. He averaged 16.3 points as a senior and gained All-Pacific West first team honors in 2008-09. Lingganay, 24, collected multiple best player awards in the ABL as a Kuala Lumpur Dragons import, the UAAP with UE, the PBL with Cobra and the TOP also with Cobra. Thiele, 26, is a lanky 6-4 1/4 shot blocker who played three years for UE. Canlas, 24, is 6-4 1/ 4 and played on the 2003 Asian junior championships. Taganas, 23, is 6-2 1/4 and an inside operator with big-man moves.

For the “descamisados,” don’t give up. Others who were similarly snubbed found their way to the PBA – you could do the same as free agents and follow in the footsteps of Lanete, Juntilla and Yee.

by Joaquin Henson |


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