By design, the best PBA players get their start in the PBA Draft.
Since the draft’s inception in 1985, former top picks like Allan Caidic, Benjie Paras, Vergel Meneses, Danny Ildefonso, Willie Miller, Kelly Williams, and June Mar Fajardo have won the Most Valuable Player award. Top 5 lottery picks like Johnny Abarrientos, Kenneth Duremdes, James Yap, Mark Caguioa, and Arwind Santos have also won the top title.
And yeah, while technically they weren’t selected in the PBA draft, direct hires like Eric Menk, Asi Taulava, and Jayjay Helterbrand are in some ways de facto top picks. Sure, Helterbrand may be a stretch because unlike the two direct hires on this list, he came in from the States as a virtual unknown. But I bet the 1999 or 2000 PBA Draft would have been a joke if either of these guys weren’t picked as the first or second pick of their draft class.
The two players to break the mold are Ato Agustin and Jimmy Alapag with The Atom Bomb becoming the only second-round pick to win the MVP award because of San Miguel’s insane mix of age and injuries and The Mighty Mouse’s stock going down because of a previous injury he suffered in preparation for the 2002 Busan Asian Games.
The top stars are pre-determined with their pre-PBA exploits and the rest are virtually deemed as fillers. Sure, there is a slim chance that second and third-rounders could get exceptional PBA careers but that more or less plays on luck. For example, a PBA team could have given away their draft picks and now they have extra spots to fill… that could be an opportunity. In some ways, players would rather go deep in the draft than scoring a first-round landing spot with a playoff contender.
With that said, getting a fourth-round and beyond spot is just a couple of rungs ahead from getting undrafted. At this point, teams are just looking for diamonds in the rough… to become diamonds in the rough, former college coaches to “pity pick” their former players, or just a way for their players to get screen time.
But then, we have a couple of players that emerged from obscurity to establish a noteworthy PBA career.
The game starts now.
SCOPE AND LIMITATION:
Unlike most of my lists, I am going to rank the players based on what I feel. WHAT I FEEL?!? Of course, some achievements matter – like a Mythical selection or an All-Star citation but I am also going to look at other factors like tenure, benchwarmer value, and draft class.
The thing about these kinds of players is that… you don’t expect much to get anything from them. These players are in my opinion, a tad worse from being undrafted because while teams see value in them… they just don’t want to give anything for them. Undrafted players, on the other hand, have nothing to lose when they apply to the teams they want to play. This is why guys like Josh Urbiztondo, Chico Lanete, Mark Yee, Bryan Faundo, Jonathan Uyloan, Lou Gatumbato, Dennis Daa, Chad Alonzo, Al Vergara, Rudy Lingganay, Jeckster Apinan, Philip Paniamogan, and Jackson Corpuz have better careers than most of the names listed.
Also, the players that qualified on this list have played at least 100 games in the PBA. Again, we expect fourth-rounders and up to just sit in the sidelines and show off their talents when the game is virtually over and hope for a better future via a contract extension or another roster spot in another squad.
This is why these superstars should be even more commended – because they dug deep and made something from a dire situation.
10 | WARREN YBANEZ
2004 PBA DRAFT | ROUND 4 PICK 27 | COCA-COLA TIGERS
3.1ppg | 1.9apg | 150games
The 2004 PBA Draft is known as one of the best draft classes of all-time. James Yap, Ranidel de Ocampo, Gary David, Sonny Thoss, and Marc Pingris are some of the notables. One will argue that if Shell survived for a couple of seasons more, then Rich Alvarez wouldn’t have had a disappointing career. There are drawbacks to having these talents in one year though. For instance, if the first-round is that loaded, then the rest of the picks have virtually little to no chance of making the PBA.
And in some ways, that happened with Warren Ybanez. Selected 27th overall by the Coca-Cola Tigers, Ybanez was left unsigned. The transitional season opened doors for a PBA stint though – as he got signed by Red Bull. The former PBL First Teamer, Second Teamer, and Finals MVP may have started his PBA career with sporadic appearances but he eventually became an integral part of Yeng Guiao’s system. Ybanez helped Red Bull win the 2005-06 PBA Fiesta Conference.
9 | BOYET FRANCISCO
1995 PBA DRAFT | ROUND 4 PICK 23 | STA. LUCIA REALTORS
5.6ppg | 227 games
Jose Francisco is the last player selected by the Sta. Lucia Realtors in the 1995 PBA Draft. With that said, it didn’t help that aside from taking Dennis Espino as the number one pick, the Realtors had to obtain the rights to Chris Jackson. With that said, Francisco spent multiple seasons with the Realtors – unlike second-round choice Adriano Papa, Jr. and third-rounder Dindo Pastor.
Francisco came to be known as El Pistolero – a deadshot sniper with the penchant of hitting triples when the game is on the line or if the opposing team is having a scoring run. In Tagalog terms, he is Mr. Pamatay Sunog. It just sucks that at height of Francisco’s overachieving gameplay, the Realtors never won a title. Francisco finished his career with the Talk N Text Phone Pals before moving to the MBA.
8 | LEO AUSTRIA
1985 PBA DRAFT | ROUND 4 PICK 9 | SHELL AZORDIN BUGBUSTERS
4.5ppg | 394 games
A former RP Youth Team campaigner, it seems like Shell got something good with the fourth-round selection of the Lyceum standout. In fact, Austria outplayed teammate and top pick Sonny Cabatu to win his batch’s Rookie of the Year award… despite playing in a time when the pioneers were still headlining the league.
The San Miguel champion coach enjoyed a career mostly acting as backup to Ronnie Magsanoc but he still managed to have a couple of seasons in which he played a role in Shell's success. And in 1990, he helped the Shell Zoom Masters prevail over the Anejo Rum 65ers to claim his only PBA title as a player. He went on to play for Pepsi and even returned to the PBL before retiring and concentrating on coaching duties.
7 | KALANI FERRERIA
2003 PBA DRAFT | ROUND 4 PICK 30 | FEDEX EXPRESS
5.3ppg | 4.0rpg | 124 games
Sometimes, the best way to survive the PBA is to embrace a situation. The former San Juan Knight was left unsigned by FedEx in the highly-touted 2003 PBA Draft and Ferreria did the "thinkable" and went on a journeyman route.
Starting his career with Shell the following season, this former Aubrey Miles leading man also had stops with Barangay Ginebra, Coca-Cola, and Talk N Text. Ferreria has the ability to orchestrate the offense and at the same time, can attack, defend, and break apart smaller opponents. Sure, these abilities aren’t good enough to warrant a bigger role and a championship but it was enough for Ferreria to have an okay PBA career.
According to LinkedIn, he’s now a bartender in Miami, Florida.
And again, I remember his brief acting stint. Most men do.
6 | CALVIN TUADLES
1989 PBA DRAFT | ROUND 4 PICK 18 | FORMULA SHELL ZOOM MASTERS
7.6ppg | 180 games
It’s hard for a bro to out-career a superstar bro. I guess it’s easy to forget that Pat Codinera, Jojit Duremdes, Junjun Locsin, and Allen Glenn Patrimonio are former collegiate or MBA stars because their siblings are certified PBA legends.
The same can be said with Calvin Tuadles. Coming to the league a decade after Arnie Tuadles debuted for the Toyota Super Corollas, the younger Tuadles is one of five players drafted by the Zoom Masters in that star-studded 1989 PBA Draft. And while sure, it’s hard to upstage the awesomeness of Benjie Paras, Tuadles had a chance to strut his wares as a key part of Shell’s vaunted second unit.
In 1990, Shell went on to win the PBA First Conference with Paras, Ronnie Magsanoc, and Bobby Parks leading the way and both Arnie and Calvin Tuadles figuring in key roles. Both Tuadles Brothers played their final season in the PBA in 1992.
5 | TOTOY MARQUEZ
1985 PBA DRAFT | ROUND 5 PICK 10 | SHELL AZORDIN BUGBUSTERS
7.1ppg | 281 games
Before Ronald Tubid popularized the #71 jersey number, that distinction came from Joey Marquez’s baby brother. The former PABL MVP and RP Youth standout also had the knack to score mid-range jumpers as well as daredevil moves. He can also do hustle plays – much like Tubid.
So why the hell is Marquez a fifth-round draft pick in the 1985 PBA Draft? BEATS ME! Maybe he had application issues or he had a bad character or the dudes back then had an agreement with Shell? I have no idea what people back then were thinking but given his credentials and the way his career turned out, I bet in a re-draft, he’s going to be a top-five pick.
It just sucks that his career is kind of short-lived. Unfortunately, when he played, the league had six or seven teams. Marquez last played for Shell in 1992 – two years after the entries of expansion squads like Pop Cola and Pepsi. Prior to his return to Shell, he played for Purefoods and Great Taste.
4 | TOPEX ROBINSON
2001 PBA DRAFT | ROUND 5 PICK 44 | TANDUAY RHUM MASTERS
4.3ppg | 3.4rpg | 2.7apg | 285 games
Yes, Topex Robinson is part of the legendary San Sebastian Stags squad of the mid-90s but he is not really the team’s go-to-guy. Romel Adducul is the star of the San Sebastian charge and even as a point guard, Michael Robinson is behind Jasper Ocampo and Ulysses “Buboy” Tanigue in the rotation.
The same can be said with his tenure with the San Juan Knights with Chito Victolero pretty much the main quarterback of the squad with guys like Gherome Ejercito, Rudy Distrito, and Kalani Ferreria also taking away his monutes.
With that said, after the departure of Roger Yap to the PBA, Robinson as well as former UPHR stars Chester Tolomia and Gilbert Malabanan made waves in Chowking/Shark Energy. This feat of brilliance came at the heels of a failed 2001 PBA Draft attempt to secure a first or second-round spot. Nonetheless, Robinson was able to cash in on his impressive PBL performance – joining Yeng Guiao’s crack band of merry Red Bull brawlers where he became a part-time starter and key contributor to the team’s 2005-06 Fiesta Conference championship.
3 | JUN MARZAN
1994 PBA DRAFT | ROUND 5 PICK 26 | TONDENA RUM 65ERS
3.8ppg | 386 games
The 1994 PBA Draft had the likes of Noli Locsin, Rey Evangelista, and Boybits Victoria up the top of the list. And while the sudden withdrawals of Marlou Aquino and EJ Feihl made this draft a bit weak, players like Cris Bolado and Peter Naron prove to be bargains as late second-round picks.
Jun Marzan is a different level though. As the second to the last pick of the draft, Marzan was able to beat Jonas Mariano and Renato Cabaluna for a Tondena roster spot.
And while yeah, Jun Marzan’s stay in Tondena is just a mere season, he managed to extend his career with the Shell Turbo Chargers as one of their core guys. Not known to throw bombs in bunches, The Phantom doubled down on hustle as well as in defense. His efforts helped the Perry Ronquillo-coached Turbo Chargers win two consecutive titles from 1998 to 1999. When Shell needed an import stopper, Marzan can be called for the job. And when the team is in need of a clutch basket, then look no further when push comes to shove. The Shell lifer would don the Shell colors from 1995 until the team’s disbandment in 2005.
2 | MIKE DIGREGORIO
2015 PBA DRAFT | ROUND 4 PICK 35 | MAHINDRA ENFORCER
10.3ppg | 2.1rpg | 1.5apg | 133 games
Nephew of former NBA Rookie of the Year winner Ernie DiGregorio, the former McKendree Bearcat could have been a first-round pick if this happened in the mid-2000s or early 2010s. Unfortunately, he applied in a time when Fil-Am combo guards aren’t as enticing. Teams have already given on finding the next Mark Caguioa and they just want to select players that could beef up their frontline. After all, if there is one positive in our brand of basketball, it’s that we litter the planet with intelligent and valuable point guards.
In fact, guards like Marvin Cruz, Froilan Baguion, Al Vergara, and even Jason Brickman for that matter spent most of their careers playing as imports and contributors to the development of Southeast Asian basketball. DiGregorio and the other guards could be similar versions of Denver Lopez, Chris Timberlake, Shawn Weinstein, Kevin White and other supposed top prospects that could either rival Caguioa or become better versions of Jimmy Alapag.
Anyway, DiGregorio got selected early in the fourth round alongside fellow Fil-Am combo guards Jerramy King, and Ryan Wetherell and eventual draftees Alli Austria, Jawhar Purdy, Joshua Cubillo, and Randy Dilay. Before their selections, teams have already drafted Mav Ahanmisi, Kris Rosales, and Abel Galliguez.
As you can see, there were a lot of Fil-Am combo guards in that pool and only three made it before the third round.
Now if there is one thing that DiGregorio managed to pull, it’s that he got a lot of time padding his stats and making a name for himself with the expansion squads. In three of his four seasons, DiGregorio averaged more than nine points. His aggressive offensive approach makes him a dangerous kick out option or a give-and-go facilitator. For as long as he stays away from the “big market” teams, there is a chance that DiGregorio could have a better career, stat-wise, than most of his batchmates.
1 | PETER JUNE SIMON
2001 PBA DRAFT | ROUND 5 PICK 43 | STA. LUCIA REALTORS
10.1ppg | 2.4rpg | 1.0apg | 685 games
I made this blog a day after he announced his retirement.
Anyway, if you’re an MBA fan, Peter June Simon probably rivals Dondon Hontiveros and Reynel Hugnatan as far as top discoveries are concerned. Like Bruce Dacia, Dave Bautista, Roy Lura, Leo Bat-Og, Billy Bansil, Rolof Liangco, and a bunch of others, the MBA offered an opportunity for these grassroots stars to make a name in the national spotlight.
However, Simon's discovery had an obscure start because for some reason, his handler thought it was a good idea for the University of Mindanao standout to apply as a virtual unknown in the 2001 PBA Draft.
So of course, Simon fell off the grid – landing in the fifth-round alongside the likes of Robinson, eventual Tanduay player David Friedhof, former RP Youth star Allen Glenn Patrimonio, and PBL mainstay Jerald Ybanes.
Now, of course, Simon did well in the PBA – with a Mythical Second Team selection, an All-Star MVP, frequent All-Star appearances, and a grand slam to note. But in order to reach basketball nirvana, he had to really dig deep and fight all the obstacles that blocked his way.
If there’s one good thing about the 2001 application, it’s that he returned to Mindanao with swagger. Simon led the charge for the post-Eugene Quilban Davao Eagles and by the time MBA ceased its operations, he has turned into an exceptional scorer. Simon would finally take his talents to the PBL as part of Hapee (or Dazz or Fash) in which he faced off against Welcoat’s Jojo Tangkay and eventual tag team buddy James Yap for the league’s MVP award.
When Hapee teammates Rich Alvarez and Wesley Gonzales as well as Welcoat rivals Yap, Paul Artadi, Ervin Sotto, and Bitoy Omolon applied for the 2004 PBA Draft, Simon signed with Purefoods.
I guess the franchise lucked out on his acquisition – especially since The Scoring Apostle played his entire pro career with the squad.
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