NOT a few fans were surprised when Barangay Ginebra pulled off a trade with Barako Bull for the chance to make James Forrester the fourth pick overall of the last PBA rookie draft.
Expectations, as a result, have gone up for Forrester, more so since he was taken by Ginebra at a time when other marquee prospects like Terrence Romeo, RR Garcia, Jeric Teng, and Alex Nuyles were still available.
Aside from that, Ginebra didn't get him for a song, having to give up Rico Maierhofer and Willy Wilson for the chance to grab him in Sunday's draft proceedings.
No wonder the question on most fans' minds is, "What's so special about Forrester?"
They Said It!
“The way he plays, he’s kinda like a Marcio Lassiter with the spot up (jumper) and his IQ at the wing. But the difference, Forrester has a controlled wing game." - sports agent Matthew Manotoc
Although the Fil-foreign guard became a YouTube sensation with his spectacular dunks and mix tape, he hardly made a big splash during his time with Arellano in the NCAA and Cagayan Valley in the D-League.
However, his agent, Matthew Manotoc, believes Forrester is the steal of the draft.
The son of legendary PBA coach Tommy Manotoc said his client has the athleticism, skills and well-rounded game that is bound to add a new dimension to Ginebra's game.
“Definitely his athleticism made him the fourth pick. He has good three-point shooting and his explosiveness is amazing. He was measured with a 41-inch vertical leap,” said Manotoc.
“Aside from him being a good shooter, Forrester is also a good defender because he already has a pro body.”
How does James Forrester play?
“Well the way he plays, he’s kinda like a Marcio Lassiter with the spot up (jumper) and his IQ at the wing. But the difference, Forrester has a controlled wing game,” said Manotoc, pointing out that Forrester is more athletic than the Petron guard.
Manotoc went as far as dub his Fil-Canadian talent as a smaller but quicker version of PBA great Kenneth Duremdes.
“Yes, we can say that he is a mini-version of Kenneth, because of his shooting and daredevil assault to the basket. But if Duremdes is a 33 1/3 LP, Forrester is a a 45 rpm record,” he said.
The 24-year old guard, who traces his roots to Pangasinan, only managed to play three games for the Arellano University Chiefs in the ongoing NCAA season due to a meniscal tear on his left knee.
In his first season with Arellano, Forrester tallied 12.25 points, 5.06 rebounds, 1.25 assists, 1.25 steals and .56 blocks in 16 games - numbers that concededly are not eye-popping by most standards.
Also, the fact that the Arellano Chiefs never had much success in the time he spent with the school lessened his value in the pre-draft assessment of most pundits.
Still, several coaches are high on the athletic guard, with Tim Cone even going to the extent of predicting that Forrester and sophomore Chris Ellis represent the future of Ginebra's backcourt.
[For full story, see Cone sees Forrester, Ellis combining in future to reprise 'Fast and Furious' roles]
On the other hand, Ginebra coach Ato Agustin said Forrester plays "much like Sol Mercado."
Meanwhile, Cagayan Valley team manager Frederick Collado said there also downsides to the latest 'kabarangay,' saying his suspect passing skills and poor decisions make him prone to errors.
“Malakas ang katawan ni James. Pero he needs to improve his dribbling skills and passing skills. Minsan kasi 'yung passing niya hindi pa smooth,” said Collado adding it has been a routine for the coaching staff to give Forrester extra passing drills.
“Medyo prone kasi siya sa turnover,” added the Cagayan Valley team official. Also, "Lagi nga namin siya sinasabihan to go hard (to the basket), pag aatake kasi minsan lumiliyad pa siya na parang iniingatan yung katawan niya. Parang may takot.”
But at his best, Collado said Forrester is an excellent open-court player comparable to Cyrus Baguio.
On the other hand, His former Cagayan teammate and fellow draftee Eloy Poligrates said Forrester has a tendency to hold on to the ball for far too long.
“Magaling siya mag-dribble, oo. Pero madalas matagal sa kanya ang bola eh. Saka may tendency na hindi na niya binababa sa point guard ang bola," said the Cebuano guard.
Asked if he was surprised after Forrester was picked fourth overall ahead of Teng, Garcia, and Romeo, Collado said: "Akala ko mga bandang eighth (overall) siya o second round.”