First blogged on July 4, 2019.
Who wants to be the crappy filling in between two awesome talents?
Who wants to be the general manager who passed up on a great talent… and then narrowly missed on the even bigger talent.
Now before fans and players go apeshit on my list, I based the entries on facts. I listed down the five major individual awards and while some of the names mentioned have zeroes, these players may be former national players, many-time all-stars, multiple ring holders, and more or less can complement the other part of the "sandwich".
Also, this is not the WORST PLAYER list. Because the four top names on this list are far from busts. They were just selected in between two big-time superstars.
So let's start this!
12 | James Forrester
Fourth pick overall | Barako Bull Energy (traded to the Barangay Ginebra Kings)
2013 PBA Draft
Picked in between | Raymond Almazan (3) and Terrence Romeo (5)
I remember this draft… and all the expletives I said when I saw his name taken too early. For starters, I have a Jeric Teng bias back then (Viva Santo Tomas) and I thought he’s a better pick than Forrester. Also, Barako Bull had three straight first-round picks and they gave all those picks away. I get that Greg Slaughter, Ian Sangalang, and eventual third pick Raymond Almazan are the optimal top three picks but who knew Ginebra would get a pick in the early first round and waste it on a player that they’ll keep on their bench in the tradition of Reil Cervantes, Macky Escalona, Jimbo Aquino, and Keith Jensen.
James Forrester may have been a stud in Arellano but Ginebra still had the in-rotation versions of Mark Caguioa and Jayjay Helterbrand in their squad. Another thing, Terrence Romeo is still available at that point and the many-time mythical Team member has since razzle-dazzled all fans of all walks. Meanwhile, Forrester bounced from team to team and league to league which sucks because of his oozing potential.
11 | Marlon Legaspi
Eighth pick overall | San Miguel Beermen
2003 PBA Draft
Picked in between | Enrico Villanueva (7) and Reynel Hugnatan (9)
A millennial must ask, “Who in the world is Marlon Legaspi”? Heck, I don’t even know if his last name is spelled with an “s” or with a “z”. Back in the day though, he was one of the best centers produced by the PBL. Legaspi is once upon a time a PBL MVP candidate for the Blu Detergent Kings. Had it not for Enrico Villanueva, he could have won the MVP award, the Finals MVP award, and the championship in the 2002 PBL Chairman’s Cup.
In hindsight, he should have been a top-five player. Unfortunately for Legaspi, he declared for the draft at the time of the MBA’s demise. He should have seen the silver lining when midway through 2002, the MBA discards led by Romel Adducul, Eddie Laure, Reynel Hugnatan, Alex Compton, John Ferriols, and a slew of others flocked the PBL.
Things went even more difficult when he joined the 2003 PBA Draft. Picked eighth overall by the San Miguel Beermen, Legaspi’s playing time had restrictions because how on earth could he get the adequate exposure if he’s working behind Danny Ildefonso, Dorian Pena, and Nic Belasco?
But then again, perhaps things could have been different for the Beermen if Enrico Villanueva dropped to eighth or Reynel Hugnatan was the one they selected. There was a time when E-Vil was MVP material and while Hugnatan never had a big-time individual prize, he has been a fixture in All-Star games and has had a couple of championships with Coca-Cola and Alaska.
Legaspi signed with the Shell Turbo Chargers in 2004 and while he gave significant contributions, the former MLQU standout disappeared from the PBA to play in the minor leagues right after Shell’s disbandment.
10 | Eugene Tejada
Fifteenth pick overall | Sta. Lucia Realtors (traded to the Alaska Aces)
2003 PBA Draft
Picked in between | Cyrus Baguio (14) and Ronald Tubid (16)
I guess it’s odd for a top draft list to talk about a bunch of mid-second rounders. Also, we all know what happened to Eugene Tejada and how appreciative we are that he’s fighting and overpowering the odds after the freak accident that happened a decade ago. With that said, Alaska acquired the pick in the Kenneth Duremdes trade alongside the draft rights to Brandon Lee Cablay. The Aces would then use said pick to select Eugene Tejada.
Tejada was picked before Ronald Tubid and after Cyrus Baguio.
The 2003 PBA Draft only had one MVP winner but a slew of mythical teamers (as mentioned in the previous entry). You know what – the draft’s third overall pick Eddie Laure almost made this list for being the filling of a Romel Adducul and Harvey Carey sandwich. As of this writing, Tubid and Baguio are still part of the PBA and have had their share of championships and individual achievements.
And I’ll end this entry with a fun fact. Before these teams disbanded, Shell and Red Bull had the knack to select big-time players beyond the first round like Rookie of the Year winners Leo Austria and Larry Fonacier. They also had their share of disappointing picks though. Shell had Laure, Sonny Cabatu, Erwin Luna, and another entry as case in point with Red Bull using their picks to select Denver Lopez and Ogie Gumatay.
9 | Samigue Eman
Second pick overall | Magnolia Beverage Masters
2007 PBA Draft
Picked in between | Joe Devance (1) and Ryan Reyes (3)
Samigue Eman should have had the career of June Mar Fajardo. Both are giants from the south of the border taken by the Ramon Ang franchise. But while Kraken is on the verge of claiming his sixth MVP title, Sam Eman was out of the PBA in his sixth year (I know Eman lasted longer but I did this for the sake of dramatic theatrics).
Eman’s stock could have risen up if he was able to wrestle the top spot from Joe Devance, who turned out to be Welcoat’s pick. This is not a farfetched notion, especially if you consider that Eman played for Welcoat in the PBL and Devance played for their rival, Toyota Otis. Instead, Eman became the Philippines’ version of Darko Milicic – a player with tons of potential whose confidence went bye-bye when he started his career out of the rotation.
One might ask, perhaps maybe if Eman slid down to the third spot? I doubt if he’ll have his minutes if Sta. Lucia took him with the Realtors stacked in the frontline with Kelly Williams, Dennis Espino, and Marlou Aquino. Ryan Reyes, the third overall pick, eventually became what they needed as the team won a title, and Reyes won the Rookie of the Year award.
8 | Ricky Cui
Second pick overall | Manila Beer Brewmasters
1986 PBA Draft
Picked in between | Rey Cuenco (1) and Dondon Ampalayo (3)
I know little about Ricky Cui except for his brief stint with the San Miguel Beermen and the fact that former Sta. Lucia and Mobiline center Gabby Cui is his relative. With that said, I guess his career is the opposite with regards to those of Rey Cuenco and Dondon Ampalayo.
The late Arellano star played awesomely as part of Shell and Ginebra during the late 80s and early 90s. Cuenco also had a Mythical Team citation and finished his career with double-digit scoring averages. Meanwhile, The Magic Man is a two-time Mythical Second teamer and part of the dreaded Ginebra bad boys squad of the late 80s.
Ampalayo is also the draft’s Rookie of the Year.
Sure, all three had considerably short careers due to injuries and team rotation but if you think about it, the 1986 PBA Draft only had seven players.
7 | Wesley Gonzales
Ninth pick overall | FedEx Express
2004 PBA Draft
Picked in between | Nelbert Omolon (8) and Gary David (10)
The 2004 PBA Draft is kind of known as the one that had Rich Alvarez picked ahead of James Yap, Ranidel de Ocampo, Marc Pingris, and Sonny Thoss.
Fun fact – there is also another Atenean in the draft that could have had a better career.
Wild… Wild… Wes.
The thing about Wesley Gonzales is that he is perfect for the PBA grind. He may be a worthy starter for weak teams (even in his UAAP days as he shared time with Larry Fonacier, Rainier Sison, and Jec Chia) but he can be a good role player for title-hunting teams as well. Wesley Gonzales has the SIZE to play multiple positions. He may not rival Gary David as a scorer, I bet he could have been the Ateneo Blue Eagle version of Bitoy Omolon’s pro career… if only he played for less than four teams.
And this is what should have been Gonzales’ PBA career. Gonzales could have been a perfect Omolon or guys in his essence like Leo Najorda in Red Bull, Will Antonio in Coca-Cola, Jun Marzan in Shell, and Rey Evangelista in Purefoods. Omolon had a lengthy stint in the PBA because while the Sta. Lucia Realtors rarely played for titles, they took care of Nelbert’s career. Just imagine if Wild Wes had a team that properly took care of him and didn't see him as a trade kicker?
6 | Bryant Punsalan
Fifth pick overall | San Miguel Beermen
1995 PBA Draft
Picked in between | Chris Jackson (4) and Jeffrey Cariaso (6)
When I saw Bryant Punsalan wearing the San Miguel jacket at the 1995 PBA Draft, he reminded me of former San Miguel reserve Jeffrey Graves.
I don’t know what I’m thinking… but it kind of made sense, especially with how his career turned out.
I initially saw Punsalan during his years with the FEU Tamaraws. Punsalan had defensive capabilities and I guess a semblance of offense. Unfortunately, Punsalan never had the opportunity to shine. When there’s an injured player, he’s also an injured player. While he is a good defender, there were other good defenders in the San Miguel camp. Purefoods was no different. Punsalan would later move to Alaska and then would move to the MBA where he replicated his PBA journeyman status.
Meanwhile, while Chris Jackson didn’t have the mythical selections to boast, he is one of two players to win the Defensive Player of the Year award three times playing for Sta. Lucia and Shell. Jeffrey Cariaso is even worse for Punsalan. Picked after the big man, Cariaso finished his career with a ton of individual accolades and championships to show (the biggest of which are an almost MVP season and a grand slam one with Alaska).
5 | Rob Reyes
Fourth pick overall | Talk N Text Phone Pals
2008 PBA Draft
Picked in between | Jayson Castro (3) and Solomon Mercado (5)
In 2008, Talk N Text had three first-round picks. One of those picks happened when the Phone Pals sent Jay Washington to San Miguel. Anyway, they used the first pick on Jared Dillinger. Jayson Castro went next… although his stint is kind of iffy because he should have been the first pure Pinoy to play in the Australian basketball league for financial reasons, the Singapore Slingers decided to do away with the NBL (Castro was then replaced by Harbour Centre teammate, Al Vergara). And then we have Rob Reyes – another former Harbour Centre player and Eric Reyes’ nephew. Reyes could have been a more athletic version of Marc Pingris because of the hustle he brought. I guess there was a time when Reyes had the tendency of becoming a double-double magnet but for most of his career, he was an injury-prone journeyman.
As of now, Castro is TNT’s top guard and once upon a time was perceived as FIBA Asia’s top point guard. The next player taken after Reyes is Solomon Mercado. Sure, he never had big accolades but he averaged more than 15 points in a lot of seasons (going SMC messed up his scoring averages).
4 | Zaldy Realubit
Third pick overall | Presto Ice Cream Makers
1989 PBA Draft
Picked in between | Nelson Asaytono (2) and Paul Alvarez (4)
So I was second-guessing myself on whether or not I should insert Zaldy Realubit on this list. The fact of the matter is he’s not that bad. In fact, he had a couple of titles with Sunkist and was even part of the 1990 Asian Games team.
Let’s face facts though – Realubit never really became the face of his franchise the way Nelson Asaytono and Bong Alvarez were to theirs. The Bull and Mr. Excitement are iconic PBA characters that have mainstream value even to this day.
If we’re going to just stick with basketball (and disregard Asaytono’s iconic Red Bull commercial and Alvarez’s constant antics), both players have a ton of accolades to boast about… especially Asaytono who almost won the MVP award on two separate occasions and once had Realubit as his key backup during the almost grand slam of the Sunkist Orange Juicers. Alvarez also had a lot of 18+ scoring average seasons and there was even a time that he had 71 points in a game.
Also, maybe getting either Asaytono or Alvarez would alter Presto’s PBA fate. If Asaytono dropped to third, the former Great Taste squad could have had an inside scoring threat to pair up with Allan Caidic and if Alvarez went third, Presto would have had a slasher to help The Triggerman with the scoring load a la Samboy Lim. Eventually, Presto would address these needs by selecting Bong Hawkins in 1991 and Vergel Meneses in 1992. It was too late though as the team ceded their spot to Sta. Lucia.
Anyway, Realubit ended his long pro career with respectable averages.
3 | EJ Feihl
Second pick overall | Ginebra San Miguel Kings
1995 PBA Draft
Picked in between | Dennis Espino (1) and Kenneth Duremdes (3)
I met EJ Feihl when I was working as a promo writer for PBA on NBN and he seems like a swell guy. This was around 2003 and at that time he was playing for the Alaska Aces. With that said, Feihl should have been the cornerstone of Ginebra’s mid-90s rise alongside Noli Locsin.
So what happened?
Turns out, he turned down a Ginebra contract offer and returned to the PBL to play for the AMA Cyber Tigers alongside Jessie Cabanayan and a young Ali Peek. I guess Feihl wanted to be the lone giant of the team and he felt teaming up with Marlou Aquino was a bad idea.
But while Feihl was part of the 1996 Centennial Team and had a serviceable pro stint, he was picked before former MVP Kenneth Duremdes and picked after mythical teamer Dennis Espino. If we compare his numbers with his former Centennial Team braders, you can easily spot the discrepancies. Espino, Aquino, and Duremdes are players that have led their respective teams to titles.
Just imagine a Ginebra team battling the Alaska Milkmen with a core of Aquino, Locsin, Duremdes, Vince Hizon, and Bal David? I bet my balls Alaska would not have won a grand slam.
Although, Espino, Aquino, and Duremdes joined forces in Sta. Lucia in 2003 but never really contended for a championship. The duo of Espino and Aquino did better though – as they were present in all of Sta. Lucia’s title wins.
2 | Joseph Yeo
Third pick overall | Coca-Cola Tigers
2006 PBA Draft
Picked in between | Arwind Santos (2) and LA Tenorio (4)
I was quite hesitant about writing Joseph Yeo to this list because… who doesn’t know about The Ninja? Yeo is a high-profile catch in 2006 and I can’t blame the Coca-Cola Tigers for selecting him third overall. There were seasons when Yeo averaged in double digits and he was a member of two championship teams (Sta. Lucia and Petron).
But then looking at his Wiki page… and cross-checking with the Hardcourt annuals… I found his career… weird.
Yeo never won an individual accolade in the PBA and is (surprisingly) only a one-time all-star. It didn’t help that he spent a lot of time trying to learn the team system rather than taking his career to the next level due to his frequent jersey changes. In fact, The Ninja played for eight teams in eleven seasons and of the eight teams, he only had multiple seasons with Sta. Lucia and Petron/San Miguel.
I am going to reiterate that this is not a PBA draft bust list. With that said, Yeo had the unfortunate distinction of being selected between Arwind Santos and LA Tenorio. I am not saying Santos and Tenorio are direct comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan but Yeo’s position kind of resembles that of Sam Bowie.
Just imagine if Yeo stayed in one team for at least seven years.
1 | Mike Hrabak
Second pick overall | Shell Turbo Chargers
2001 PBA Draft
Picked in between | Willie Miller (1) and Mark Caguioa (3)
Mike Hrabak would have been awesome in the current basketball landscape. He is a big man who can swat shots and knows how to score beyond the arc. Unfortunately for Hrabak, Shell was on the verge of disbandment when he entered the team and basketball was seen differently back then. Critics thought Hrabak would play a la Eric Menk or Asi Taulava but instead, he played on the perimeter. My college classmates back then would tell me that he’s kind of a better version of James Walkvist. As I said, Hrabak can swat shots. However, it would have been better if Hrabak would have had a tougher stance on defense like Mick Pennisi.
And yeah, it doesn’t help that he’s in between a two-time MVP and a one-time MVP. Miller and Caguioa are larger than life combo guards. I bet even casual basketball fans know about their awesomeness on the court. Maybe if Shell had either The Spark or The Thriller on their squad, they could have hesitated on disbanding their franchise. Because here’s the thing about the Shell franchise back then – they were losing games and none of their players are charismatic. I know it’s hard to see Caguioa wearing non-Ginebra colors but while we like him as an ally… maybe he will be the ultimate antagonist to all Gin fans?
Anyway, Hrabak also spent time with Purefoods before going on a hiatus. He returned to play for Red Bull and Rain or Shine before retiring for good.
So this ends this list.
As I said, just because a player is rated high on this list, doesn’t mean that he’s a bust. I mean… how can you say guys like Joseph Yeo, Zaldy Realubit, and EJ Feihl are duds? Sure, their careers aren’t as awesome as compared to Johnny Abarrientos, Vergel Meneses, or Dindo Pumaren but they still did what they can to survive the league’s ground and pound.
It’s just that… like Sam Bowie, they are just cursed with an unfortunate situation.
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