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    La Salle star Justine Baltazar skips PBA draft, focuses on Gilas

    Jan 27, 2021
    PHOTO: Marlo Cueto

    POTENTIAL top pick Justine Baltazar has decided to sit out the upcoming PBA Rookie Draft and is staying put in La Salle.

    The 6-foot-8 Kapampangan, who is unquestionably the best center in college today, told Spin.ph of his decision as the deadline for the submission of applications counted down its last hours on Wednesday.

    "Hindi muna po ako sasali sa draft," he said.

    Baltazar, who hails from Mabalacat, Pampanga, is one of the most sought after names in the amateur ranks, with some believing that he could be picked first in this year's class if he won't be tapped in the planned special Gilas Pilipinas round.

    Those plans, however, will have to be sidelined for the meantime as Baltazar consulted with his handlers led by Pampanga Gov. Dennis Pineda and coach Alan Trinidad and felt that it's better for him to remain as an amateur.

    He still has one year left in La Salle.

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    Nevertheless, the 23-year-old's focus will be directed to the national team for the time being as he is part of the training pool for the third window of the 2021 Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers.

    "Dito muna ako sa Gilas habang wala pang liga," he said as he trains with the Gilas pool at Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna.

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    Baltazar surely made a good impression in his national team debut in the second window in Manama, Bahrain last November.

    He was quick to impose his might in the Philippines' two-game sweep of Thailand, averaging 7.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 2.0 steals as he was certainly one of the breakout stars from that youthful cadets squad.

    But even before that, collegiate observers already knew how good he is dating back from his time in National University-Nazareth School.

    After all, Baltazar has been tearing shreds for La Salle, landing in the Mythical Team for the past two UAAP seasons following the departure of two-time UAAP MVP Ben Mbala.

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    He posted 15.1 points on 39-percent shooting, along with 11.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.1 blocks in 30.4 minutes for the Green Archers last UAAP Season 82.

    Aside from his stint in La Salle, Baltazar has also made his presence felt for his home province Pampanga, representing the Giant Lanterns in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) and the Delta in the National Basketball League (NBL).

    He was also a part of the San Juan Knights-Go for Gold team which won the championship in the 2019 MPBL Datu Cup.

    With him skipping the annual draft proceedings, that leaves fellow pool members Calvin Oftana, William Navarro, and Jaydee Tungcab as the potential names to be added in the special Gilas round for this year's draft.

    Javi Gomez de Liano has earlier declared that he will skip this year's draft and is looking to return to University of the Philippines for one last go-round.

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    PHOTO: Marlo Cueto
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