NOT a few people were surprised to see San Miguel Beer trade up to No. 3 overall in the PBA Rookie Draft then pass up on the one player it was expected to draft.
'Surprised' may actually be a mild term.
The Beermen parted with Chico Lanete, Jojo Duncil, a first-round pick in 2016 and a second-round pick in 2014 to get their hands on the third selection overall, which most pundits expected to turn into Chris Banchero.
But instead of tabbing a player who stood out in San Miguel Beer's run to the Asean Basketball League (ABL) title in 2013 under now Beermen coach Leo Austria, the flagship franchise of the SMC group opted for former San Sebastian gunner and Gilas cadet Ronald Pascual.
The furor over the snub was understandable.
Together with No. 1 pick overall Stanley Pringle of GlobalPort, the six-foot Banchero was highly regarded as a point guard who can give the Beermen's backcourt - one of the shaky points in the team's lineup last season - a major upgrade.
In contrast, the sweet-shooting Pascual was seen as a duplication of Beermen mainstays Chris Lutz, Marcio Lassiter, Ronald Tubid and his fellow Kapampangan Arwind Santos.
“Allowing Chris Banchero to slip down the drafting order was one of the biggest surprises I saw in my life,” said one PBA star who asked not to be named. “Honestly, I know Ronald is a good player. But I don’t think he is the person that San Miguel needs right now.”
On the other hand, Asi Taulava, who teamed up with Banchero in San Miguel's ABL champion team, only has the highest praise for the Fil-Italian's skills and work ethic.
“I know Chris. He has a lot of talent. He has the discipline. He spends extra hours at the gym with me without you asking him. You know what he can do,” Taulava said.
Ironically, Taulava's new team, NLEX, also passed up on Banchero, opting for Matt Ganuelas Rosser at No. 4 overall.
“Honestly at first I was surprised. But I can’t blame NLEX. This company values loyalty to its players more. And I can’t question that,” said the 41-year-old Taulava.
“Matt is a great addition to us, because of his defensive skills. He is a defensive stopper that’s gonna help us at our weaknesses in the backcourt and wings. He plays 1, 2 and 3,” he explained.
“Imagine Rosser as a younger (Gabe) Norwood. It was even a big positive to see him at practice today. He covers all our weaknesses on defense at the perimeter.”
However, a former coach agreed with the line of thinking that San Miguel needs Banchero more than it needs a player like Pascual.
“Nagulat din ako dun. Kasi bakit ka pa kukuha ng Ronald Pascual andami mo nang wings. Tingin ko sa San Miguel ang kulang guwardiya. Somebody who can stabilize their backcourt. Yung tutulong at babalanse kila Chris Ross at Sol Mercado,” said the coach who requested that he not be named.
“Aside from that, kailangan ng Beermen another number 4 guy. Hindi two or three,” he added.
Television panelist Dominic Uy, meanwhile, said he believes the reason San Miguel took in Pascual is for 'insurance' at the 2 and 3 points, considering Lutz and Lassiter have been hounded by injuries the past season.
“Madalas kasi yung wings nila may mga injuries eh. I think they wanted to get somebody to fill in. Just in case my injury,” said Uy.
“Pag may import, yes, duplication ang spot nila sa wings. Pero sa all Filipino (tournament), I think they can play together. Pascual won’t get the minutes at the start, though,” Uy added.
Banchero, for his part, said he harbored no ill feelings after being snubbed by the company he played for in the ABL.
“I am not even looking at it (feeling bad not chosen). I am just happy being picked. I am happy that Alaska picked me, it’s a great franchise and I am excited to get going with them,” he said.
With San Miguel getting another 2-3 player, one longtime Beermen fan said he hopes Pascual won’t end being another under-utilized player left buried in the Beermen's talented lineup.
“OK sa akin si Pascual kasi may dagdag na shooter. Pero I was expecting sana si Banchero. Kasi ang backcourt namin ang may issue sa tingin ko,” said Oyen Sol, a San Miguel fan who has the Twitter handle @oyen_13.
“Feeling ko magiging wasted pick like kay Alex Mallari na naman ito pag hindi nag-pan out ang expectation kay Pascual as dagdag na shooter. Yung talent ni Pascual pang first rounder, pero hindi siya ang kailangan namin. Backcourt ang may kailangang i-improve.
“Sana huwag matulad kina James Forrester at Dylan Ababou at sa iba pang talent ng San Miguel na kinuha sa draft tapos di nagagamit. Sayang ang career nung mga players,” added the Cebu-based PBA fan.
But regardless of whether San Miguel was wrong or right to pass up on Banchero, another PBA star is certain all the teams that passed up on the 25-year-old guard just did Alaska a big favor.
“Alaska no doubt is one of the biggest winners in this draft. Just imagine their first five: (Jayvee) Casio, Banchero, they slide (Cyru) Baguio to three then they have Sonny Thoss and Calvin Abueva, ” the PBA star said.
"Oh my goodness," he added.