FOR someone who’s blessed with PBA-level athleticism and a body that’s built for basketball, it’s a wonder why James Forrester can't seem to find a niche with one team.
The 6-foot-2 wingman has bounced around the league since Ginebra took him with the fourth overall pick in the 2013 Draft, playing for six teams and getting traded four times, the latest bringing him to GlobalPort late last month.
Koy Banal, his coach at Arellano and later at Barako Bull, has always believed that Forrester had a bright future ahead of him after his two-year stint with the Chiefs.
That’s why while not a few people were surprised to see him get picked before Terrence Romeo and RR Garcia in the 2013 PBA rookie draft, Banal wasn’t.
“Hindi, kasi he was able to perform in his two seasons in the NCAA at dun sa D-League stint niya,” Banal said in a chat with SPIN.ph. “Dun naman tinitingnan ng mga PBA coaches yung performance ng bata.”
Banal, however, feels a knee injury early in the Fil-Canadian's career started a domino effect that saw Forrester getting limited playing time to losing confidence, eventually pilling pressure on himself.
“First, he was not hundred percent when he got drafted,” Banal said. “Siguro yun yung isang nagdala sa kanya instead of being able to show what he’s made of in his early days, na-delay, nawala tuloy yung kumpiyansa niya siguro.”
“Iba yung pressure dun sa bata, syempre number four overall tapos hindi naglalaro,” he added. “Iba yung pressure na yun.”
A reunion with Banal at Barako looked like the reboot Forrester needed. But Banal found out his ward was carrying a heavy mental baggage – even after his injury has healed.
“Nung na-trade siya sa amin sa Barako, I was trying to make him comfortable again, bring back the confidence he had when we were together in the NCAA,” Banal said. “Pero parang ang bigat at sobrang lalim ng iniisip niya eh. Sometimes okay siya, sometimes hindi.”
“Syempre sa Barako, since hindi naman kami ganun ka-lalim talaga, I wanted to give him that much-needed time, pero syempre, kailangan namin manalo eh just to salvage every conference, which we were able to make it to the playoffs, so hindi ko natutukan na siya,” he added.
That’s when Banal thought of helping Forrester get another fresh start by trading him to NLEX before Ariel Vanguardia replaced Banal when Phoenix bought the Barako franchise.
“Nung hindi na namin siya nagagamit masyado, I thought na baka pwede siyang mag-move sa isang team na para ma-break yung kumbaga – hindi ko naman sinasabing ‘malas’ – kundi maiba yung atmosphere niya na this could be a new beginning,” Banal said.
Banal even went as far as advising Forrester to consult a sports psychologist to set his priorities straight.
“Yung nga sinasabi ko sa kanya eh, merong gumugulo sa isip niya, that’s why even before, I was convincing him to see a sports psychologist to help him relax, sort out things, what you need to do, the priorities,” Banal said. “Kahit sino naman, ‘di ba? Pagka marami ka ng iniisip, medyo magulo na eh. Hindi mo na ma-prioritize eh.”
“Yung mga NBA players, they’re doing that,” he added. “Sometimes, hindi na alam ng coach kung papaano eh, kaya in-advise ko siya. Even sa Arellano kami, nasimulan ko 'yun. Naka-dalawang session ata kami as a group.”
Banal said he’s only recommending what’s best for the enigmatic player.
“Gusto kong mapaayos si James,” Banal said. “Ang ano dito, he’s a very positive person. He’s a team player. You won’t hear him say anything. Maybe all he needs is for you to approach him, talk to him, assure him.”
And that’s what Franz Pumaren, his current coach at Globalport, is doing.
“I’ve talked to him (recently),” Pumaren said when asked about his first impression on Forrester. “He has to learn the game. He should start looking at the whole picture. The way I look at him being young, he’s trying too hard eh. He’s trying to do things that, at this stage, he’s not capable of doing pa eh.”
“This is his fourth year, but basically, the number of games that he played in minutes, he’s still considered as a rookie, so he has to do a lot of learning,” he added of Forrester, who has played in only 42 games in his career so far. “He has to learn how to play the game here in the PBA."
Like Banal, Pumaren believes Forrester has the physical tools, but is shouldering plenty of mental baggage.
“If you look at him, he’s a prototype, a perfect basketball specimen,” Pumaren said. “He just has to overcome all of those pressures in his system.”
While his jersey has always changed, one constant for Forrester is that he’s still in the PBA, Phoenix coach Ariel Vanguardia stressed.
“For him to still be in a tough league proves he can play,” the former Malaysia Dragons coach said. “I was interested to bring him to Malaysia after Arellano. I think the up-and-down pace fits him.”
Vanguardia said Fuel Masters rookie sensation Matthew Wright is putting in a good word for his fellow Fil-Canadian – if ever the opportunity arises for Phoenix to acquire Forrester.
“Matt’s been vouching that I should take a look at James in the future,” Vanguardia said. “He says he will be a good fit with what we are doing and trying to build.”
If all else fails, Banal, who’s making a coaching comeback in the D-League with Marinong Pilipino, feels the developmental league is an avenue where Forrester can regain his confidence.
Forrester, he added, only needs to look at the rejuvenated careers of Mark Cruz, Juami Tiongson, and Jackson Corpuz to be convinced that a stint in the D-League may do him a world of good.
“Ito ang kagandahan ng may D-League ka eh,” Banal said. “Maybe he just needs that confidence-booster. Maybe for him to get back, dapat makuha niya yung kumpiyansang yun… Pinakamaganda yung may D-League. Look at Juami Tiongson, Mark Cruz, Jackson Corpuz, at marami pang iba.”
“Pero si James, alam kong hindi mag-gi-give up yan,” Vanguardia was quick to add. “Alam niya yung dream niya and he wants to pursue his dream. Athletically, kaya niya (sa PBA). Nawala lang yung kumpiyansa niya. Dapat lang ma-set niya yung priorities niya.”