THERE'S a flipside to the excitement that's building up ahead of the PBA rookie draft, wherein players with mouths to feed endure sleepless nights wondering if they'd still have jobs in the pro league next season.
Count Jerwin Gaco among them.
Like most of the fringe players who occupy the ninth to 14th spots in the teams' lineups, Gaco fears for his job as another wave of younger, talented rookies aim to land places in team rosters after Sunday's draft.
Gaco was last seen celebrating another championship with San Mig in the Governors Cup finals, but he has an expired contract and unsure if someone from a deep, talent-laden rookie poll will be tapped to take his place beginning next season.
“Syempre pag ganitong panahon, kinakabahan ako. Kasi tulad ko one year, one year lang ang contract ko,” said the former Dela Salle Green Archers forward.
“Hindi mo rin kasi maiaalis na papasok yung mga mas bata … yung iba sa kanila syempre maiisip mo, ‘Naku, mas magaling sa akin yun. Kapwesto ko pa, paano na yan?’ Yan ang tanong mo sa sarili mo lagi,” he added.
The competition to be among the league's top stars is great, the burly bruiser admitted, but he pointed out that it's just as hard to keep your place in a league that has resisted expansion for the last 13 years.
Red Bull was the last expansion team allowed to join the league back in 2000.
They Said It!
“Syempre pag ganitong panahon, kinakabahan ako. Kasi tulad ko one year, one year lang ang contract ko." - San Mig Coffee forward Jerwin Gaco
“May pressure talaga ako every year na dumadating yung drafting," said the free agent. "Mabigat kasi lagi ang competition sa amin. Lalo na sa mga katulad ko."
In the same boat is Rain or Shine role player Chito Jaime, who has an expiring contract and like Gaco is keeping a close watch on how the Elastopainters' lineup will shape up after draft.
Rain or Shine has two first-round picks in the drafting and is expected to select Letran star Raymond Almazan - a big man like Jaime - at No. 3 overall.
Gaco's San Mig side will also likely nab another big man, Ian Sangalang, with the second pick overall.
“Taon-taon yan ang naiisip ko. Pero syempre, thankful tayo kay God kasi surviving. Tayo naman hindi na naghahangad ng (mahabang) playing time … Basta ako ready to play anytime,” said Jaime.
“Syempre, gusto pa rin natin nasa PBA. Kaya nga sa practice, ibinubuhos ko ang lahat. Mahirap din ang walang trabaho,” said the 30-year-old forward.
Jaime, who has a six-year-old daughter with wife Rose Ann, has been in and out of the league since he was drafted 14th overall by Sta. Lucia Realty back in 2008.
Now he's trying to hold on with a hope and a prayer.
“Nakikiramdam na lang tayo. Syempre, sinasamahan ko ng matinding panalangin. Yun naman ang susi sa lahat eh,” said Jaime. “Basta kami ng misis ko, mapag-aral lang namin 'yung anak namin okay na sa amin 'yun.”
As the anxiety among fringe players build between now and Sunday, Gaco and Jaime can only hope they'd still be around when the league finally opens its doors to new member teams.
“Yun rin ang panalangin ko. Maagdagan ang team para kahit papano, maraming malaruan na team ang mga players. Kahit mga dalawang teams, Okay na yun,” Gaco said.
“Sana nga madagdagan ang team. Kasi madaming talent dito sa atin,” said Jaime.