Free-agent pick-up JR Cawaling makes the most of his second chance with KIA
JR Cawaling was initially given a one-month contract by KIA before it was extended to the end of the current season. Jerome Ascano

KIA Motors’s sophomore forward JR Cawaling is making the most of his second chance in the PBA.

After forgettable stints with Purefoods and expansion team Blackwater, Cawaling has found a new lease on life when he joined the Carnival as a free-agent pickup, just a week after the opening of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup.

The former Far Eastern University standout recounted how Blackwater decided to buy out the remainder of his one-and-a-half-year contract, just shortly after the Philippine Cup where he played an average of 14.6 minutes per contest for an Elite side that went winless in 11 games.

But eager to prove he belongs in the pros in just his second season as a pro, Cawaling tried out for a spot at KIA, a team that was then looking to surround hulking import Peter John Ramos with shooters.

“Nag-tryout ako sa kanila (Carnival), tapos, one week ako nagpahinga. Pero after nung GlobalPort game, kinabukasan, tinawagan nila ako saka pinaglaro na agad ako against Meralco,” Cawaling told

“Sobrang motivated ako before ako bumalik sa KIA. One month (contract) lang kasi yung binigay nung una, till in-extend na ako till end of the season,” he said.

Cawaling repaid KIA's fate on Tuesday night, firing 14 points off the bench while going 4-of-5 from the three-point zone in a 103-89 upset win over Philippine Cup runner-up Alaska.

With the 7-foot-3 Ramos commanding so much attention from the defense because of his size, Cawaling said shooters like him need to be ready to make their shots.

“Buhay talaga kaming shooters diyan kasi kay PJ nagko-collapse lahat sa defense, like nagdo-double-team, so kapag nagsi-swing swing yung bola, nali-libre kami, kaya okay ako dun sa sistema na yun,” said the 27-year-old.

Ramos said shooters like Cawaling are critical in the team’s offense because it is impossible to beat the elite teams in the PBA on his own.

“We need shooters when you got a guy like me to post in the game,” said Ramos, who banged in 36 points and grabbed 33 rebounds. “So when I get doubled, I just find the shooter and kick it out.”

Cawaling said the experience he gained as a member of the San Mig (now Purefods Star) side that won a grand slam last season has given him the confidence to serve as a steadying presence for KIA's young players.

“Ngayon, yung pagiging veteran na ginagawa nila James (Yap), ginagawa ko na din, like mino-motivate nila yung mga baguhan, so ngayon, sa crucial na games, sa sitwasyon na patapos na ang game, kinakausap ko din sila LA (Revilla),” he said.


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