IT was back in 2001 when Barangay Ginebra took a chance with the third pick overall in the PBA rookie draft on a relative Fil-American unknown named Mark Caguioa, who went on to become one of the biggest names in the pro league, not to mention its MVP in 2012.
Moments like those are few and far between these days.
After a Fil-foreign invasion brought names like Jimmy Alapag, Brandon Cablay, Sonny Thoss, Willie Wilson, Jay Washington, Alex Cabagnot, Kelly Williams, Ryan Reyes, Joe Devance, Gabe Norwood, Jared Dillinger, Sol Mercado and Chris Ross to our shores, PBA teams are no longer as gung-ho to gamble on overseas-raised players.
It was only years ago when a stint with a US NCAA Division I team is as close as anyone can get to an automatic ticket to the PBA. These days, it is no longer unusual to see Division I players passed up by team after team in the PBA rookie draft.
Player agent Matthew Monotoc said a rule limiting each PBA ballclub to five Fil-foreign players in their roster has made teams hesitate to go for broke on untested overseas-raised prospects.
Besides, the level of competition is now so high there are no guarantees that a top US-raised prospect can shine in the PBA, nothwithstanding his glowing credentials, Manotoc added.
“The PBA kasi has this age-old rule that only five Fil-foreign players are allowed per team, that’s one. And secondly, the level of competition in the league has become very tight that you can’t just waste your precious pick on somebody you don’t know so well,” said Manotoc.
“The answer I usually get from teams whenever we endorse some Fil-foreign players is, why are they gonna draft another Fil-Am when they have no more room for one,” he added.
The son of former PBA assistant commissioner and Crispa Redmanizers coach Tommy Manotoc also said a lot of teams have over the years been 'burned' after taking chances on Fil-foreginers.
While he didn't name names, a roll call of past PBA draftees will reveal a slew of Fil-foreigners drafted in the first round who are no longer in the lineup of teams.
Then there is another league rule which mandates Fil-foreigners aged 27 and below and with no national team experience to play a mimimum games in the PBA D-League before they become eligible for the rookie draft.
That has more or less taken out the element of surprise when it comes to Fil-foreigners - and eliminated the advantage of teams which have the capacity to scout for rookie prospects in the US and elsewhere.
“The fact that some teams lack the time to scout players abroad, makes them shift to just focusing their attention on players who play regularly here,” he said.
“Teams want to see them play here, dun pa lang talaga sila nagkakaroon ng value and weight sa choices,” he said.
The draft classes over the years bear out Manotoc's claim.
Since 2011, the Fil-foreigners that stood out in the draft were players with previous exposure to teams, beginning with Manotoc clients Marcio Lassiter and Chris Lutz who were grabbed in the first round after glowing stints with the original Gilas Pilipinas team.
“It’s a different story, Chris and Marcio played for Gilas, so everyone knew their capabilities,” he said.
The 2012 draft saw Alex Mallari, Cliff Hodge, Chris Ellis, Keith Jensen and Jason Deutchman picked in the first round. From these players, only Mallari nd Hodge continue to log major minutes for their ballclubs while Deutchman currently has no team.
James Forrester became a surprise fourth overall pick by Ginebra the following year, drafted ahead of RR Garcia and Terrence Romeo, with Isaac Holstein coming in at seventh. Forrester has bounced around the league with little success while Holstein has already gone back to the US.
High profile Fil-Ams again arrived in the 2014 draft with Matt Ganuelas-Rosser, Chris Banchero and former San Beda twins Anthony and David Semerad joining Stanley Pringle in the first round. But none of them are considered gambles since they've had previous experience, either in the Asean Basketball League (ABL) or in local college leagues.
Even the top pick of the last rookie draft, Moala Tautuaa, came in after proving himself in the ABL. The two other Fil-foreign players grabbed in the first round, Maverick Ahanmisi and Chris Newsome, were already well-known to teams before they joined the draft.
Less and less PBA teams are willing to take risks on Fil-foreigners who come out of the blue and join the draft, as Nino Reyes, president of SMTM talent promotion, has found out.
“Yes, it is hard for me to get Fil-foreign players (to teams) because I have to depend on game tapes and my relationship with various ballclubs, the problem is, no matter what, at the end of the day, coaches will put more premium on the players’ capabilities and value,” said Reyes, who handles the careers of Terrence Romeo and Ping Exciminiano.
“So if they don’t get to see the player play, no matter how good your talent is, chances are hindi papansinin mabuti,” added the agent of US based players Jawhar Purdy and Taylor Statham.
Reyes said the highly physical play in the PBA also makes it hard to adopt for Fil-foreigners, regardless of their vast experience overseas.
“It’s a challenge to them (Fil-foreigners) because they need to adapt to the local style of play as well as the coaching styles. The PBA is a lot more physical than leagues in the US,” he said.
“So if I have a nephew or a relative who play basketball, I think I would advise him to get exposure locally than play abroad, if he really wants to have a lucrative, as in high paying, career in the PBA,” Reyes said.
“The trend now is ‘show me your talent,' even a stint in the US NCAA division 1 will not land you an instant spot in the PBA. There are more and more homegrown talents who end up becoming superstars in the PBA, do I have to mention the names of Terrence Romeo and Calvin Abueva?”