Unheralded rookie Jon Gabriel proves to be a silver lining for sorry KIA
Jon Gabriel gave a good account of himself in his PBA debut with KIA. Jerome Ascano

UNHERALDED rookie Jon Gabriel proved to be a silver lining for KIA after a lopsided loss to Meralco on Wednesday night sent the Picanto crashing back to earth in the PBA Philippine Cup.

The 6-6 rookie out of Colegio de San Lorenzo made the most of the minutes given him in the absence of KIA frontliners Jay-R Reyes, Jackson Corpuz and the suspended Eric Camson and gave a good account of himself in the 76-105 loss to the Bolts.

“That’s the bright spot for us. Jon is a rookie and he will be very promising and we are fortunate to have him here,” said Kia coach Ricky Dandan. “Maybe our bigs being gone is a blessing because we were able to give Jon playing time.”

The 11th pick overall in the 2017 PBA Rookie Draft finished with 13 points, six rebounds and two steals in 22 minutes of play and displayed his range and mobility at the five spot, drilling jumpers and attacking his defenders facing the basket.

Kept in the bench in their first five games, Gabriel said he was motivated to repay his coach's trust.

“Para sa akin, sinuklian ko lang yung tiwala na binigay sa akin ng coach at management. Bonus na lang yung score eh, hustle lang ng hustle, yun naman ang gusto nila,” said Gabriel.

Gabriel admitted that he was initially surprised with the pace and the level of play in the pros but started to feel more comfortable as the game wore on.

“Sa una nangangapa ako … parang ganito pala sa pro (ranks), kailangan talaga magsakripisyo muna. Kailangan ko mag-adjust ng marami,” Gabriel added. “Kailangan ko magpakundisyon ng husto para maipasok at makita ng mga coaches na nagpupursigi ako.”

The freshman center is under no illusion that he will be a regular in KIA's rotation from hereon, but he vowed to do everything to stay there.

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“Gagawin ko lang ang best ko. Di ako umaasa na ganun pa rin ang lalaruin ko. Pero pipilitin ko para makatulong ako sa team namin,” Gabriel said.

Dandan hopes so, too.

“He has a lot promise and we’re gonna build on that,” Dandan said. “I expect him to be a part of the rotation now. We’ll see.”

Follow the writer on Twitter: @CAJacinto11