IT was a plan that was nine years in the making.
Richard Albo had gone through this same ordeal before, entering his name in the 2012 PBA Rookie Draft. At the last minute, he pulled out.
"Magpapa-draft na dapat ako dati noong 2012, kaya lang nag-pull out ako kasi hindi ako makakapunta sa Rookie Camp," he looked back.
Puzzling as that decision may have been, Albo had his reason.
"Kailangan kong kumita noon kasi gusto ko talagang paghandaan yung first birthday ng panganay ko," shared Albo, recounting how he passed on the opportunity to be in the same rookie batch with the likes of June Mar Fajardo and Calvin Abueva.
Albo chose to play as an import in a ligang labas in Mindoro, earning enough to give his firstborn Keisha Nicole a happy celebration.
"Mas pinili ko na lang mag-stay muna at lumagari doon," he said.
He had no regrets then, and he certainly has no regrets now, even if at the matured age of 35, Albo comes in as the eldest in the record 97-man rookie pool for this year's draft set on March 14.
If he is picked, Albo can become the third oldest rookie in the PBA after former Kia playing-coach Manny Pacquiao and Blackwater's Maurice Shaw.
But it's just the way it is for Albo. All his life, nothing came easy.
Born in Obando, his parents separated when he was two years old and his mother took him to Navotas. He only reached fifth grade as he soon ended up working at the Navotas Fishport as a helper.
"Grade Three pa lang, sumasama na ako sa pangingisda dito sa Navotas, tapos umabot yun hanggang Grade Five hanggang sa nahinto na ako sa pag-aaral dahil kailangan kong mag-trabaho," he said. "Nakikita ko yung mga kaibigan ko, nasa high school na tapos ako, nagtatrabaho pa rin."
Even though he worked for the next five years, that desire to gain education never left Albo as he took the Alternative Learning System which allowed him to enter high school at age 19.
"Ang tangkad ko na pagpasok ko ng first year high school tapos tinatawanan ako ng mga kaklase ko pero hindi ko sila iniintindi kasi may pangarap ako," he said.
Albo continued to juggle his studies, work as a net mender for a local fishing company in Navotas, and as a basketball player on the side. "Tumatahi ako ng lambat ng malalaking barko at player din ako sa company habang nag-aaral ako sa high school."
It's in these travails where he found his way to De Ocampo Memorial College (DOMC) under coach Toto Dojillo, but as was the story of his life, he did not pass in his first try.
"Nag-try out ako ng one week at napalaro na ako, pero nung exam para maging college [student], kasamaang palad, hindi ako pumasa," he recounted. "Bumalik na lang ako ng Navotas para tapusin yung fourth year high school kahit 23 years old na ako noon."
Albo, though, is relentless. And after graduating from high school, he made one more try and finally got admitted to DOMC where he played for one year.
His performance opened the doors for him to make a living in the commercial and recreational leagues, playing in ligang labas circuits that saw him reach as far as Visayas and Mindanao.
When the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) opened in 2018, Albo quickly seized the opportunity, especially with Navotas fielding a team of its own.
"Sabi ko sa sarili ko, baka ito na yung time para sa mga katulad ko na nangangarap. Nag-try out ako bilang homegrown sa Navotas at naka-dalawang seasons ako doon," he said, drawing inspiration from his idols four-time PBA MVP Alvin Patrimonio and current TNT head coach Bong Ravena.
The other teams soon took notice, with Davao Occidental, the Datu Cup runner-up, taking him in for the next season.
"Hanggang sa nag-try out ako sa Davao Occidental at nakuha ako sa final lineup," he said.
The 6-foot-2 Albo earned his spot in coach Don Dulay's rotation, logging 9.4 minutes this Lakan Cup and netting averages of 3.9 points on 32-percent shooting from deep, alongside 2.9 rebounds while also showing tremendous grit whenever he's on the floor for the Tigers.
It was with Davao Occidental where Albo got exposed to better competition as he treated former PBA players like Mark Yee and Bonbon Custodio as mentors.
"Pinapayuhan nila ako na wag akong titigil, kaya lalo ko talagang pinagbubutihan kasi para ito sa family ko," he said.
Albo acknowledged that with his advanced age, teams may shy away from rolling the dice on him.
"Di ko masabi na may advantage ako sa kanila kasi sa tingin ko, mas madami silang advantage sa akin, lalo na yung mga nakalaro talaga sa magagandang liga at mga mas bata pa," he admitted.
But there's no quit in this man.
"Kung ano man ang maging resulta sa darating na PBA draft, nagpapasalamat lang ako kay Lord na nakarating ako dito. Kailangan ko lang din talagang maging ready kung papalarin ka or hindi, pero isa na siguro ako sa maswerte dahil nakarating ako dito."