RAIN or Shine’s semifinals series with San Miguel Beer in the PBA Governors Cup will be the best chance of lanky sophomore Raymond Almazan to show he can hold his own against the Beermen's resident star June Mar Fajardo.
The former Letran big man admitted being inspired to prove his value as one of the league’s emerging centers today following the emergence of a list that included his name among the players eyed by national coach Tab Baldwin for the Gilas Pilipinas training pool.
Baldwin has made it known that the 6-foot-10 Fajardo will be the cornerstone of Gilas’ coming campaign in the Fiba-Asia Men’s Championship in China, and Almazan is motivated to prove he can stand his ground against the reigning league MVP.
“It’s all about proving to them kung ano kakayahan ko,” said Almazan, who expressed surprise over his inclusion in the soon-to-be-announced pool.
“Oo naman (nagulat ako), parang ganito oh,” he said, playfully making faces.
Almazan believes Asia’s first ever play-for-pay league still boasts of a lot of quality big men such as Fajardo and veterans Sonny Thoss and Asi Taulava, and that having his name on Baldwin’s wish list of candidates for Gilas 3.0 is already a remarkable achievement for him.
“Dati kasi NCAA lang ako nakikilala, tapos sa mga star big men ng collegiate leagues ako naihahanay. Pero ngayon kita mo, sa mga idol ko na ako napasama. Kahit pang-tryout pa lang 'yun, karangalan na siya talaga para sa akin,” said the lanky 6-foot-7 former NCAA MVP.
“Alam mo 'yun, parang once in a lifetime lang ang ganoong (invitation) eh. Kaya pag may chance - grab,” he said.
The pride of Orion, Bataan also shared that one of his regrets in life came when he turned his back on the invitation to be a Gilas cadet two years ago to pursue his dream to play in the PBA.
“Pangarap ko rin talaga lumaro sa Philippine team. Dapat makakapag ano ko eh, parang Philippine team, pero inuna ko drafting noon eh. Sayang,” he recalled.
Asked what he think is the reason why Baldwin took interest in him, Almazan gave a humble response.
“Nilalaro ko lang 'yung laro ko eh. Siguro yung mga coaching staff ko na ang makakakita nun eh. So siguro nakikita nila (Gilas coaching staff) na nagta-trabaho ako, kaya nasa kanila na 'yun (kung bakit ako nasama sa listahan),” he said.
Watch video of interview with Almazan:
Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao, who tabbed Almazan with the third pick overall in the 2013 PBA Rookie Draft, comfirmed he did hear about Almazan’s inclusion in the Gilas roster of Baldwin.
The move didn’t surprise Guiao as he said Almazan is ‘coachable’ and has been showing remarkable improvement as a player.
“Hindi ako nag-doubt na may kakayahan siya (to excel) when I drafted him. Malaki ang potential. Ngayon, nakikita na ang contribution niya sa team. Kung lumaki-laki pa yung katawan niya, magkaroon ng muscle, made-develop. Masipag naman siya,” he said.
“He’s playing well, he has a lot of potential. Pero naririnig ko lang, wala pang official o whatever. Hindi ko pa narinig sa mismong Gilas management o coaching staff,” Guiao added.
If he can bulk up and continue his progress, Almazan, Guiao said, can one day match up well with the league’s top big men in Greg Slaughter, Ian Sangalang, Fajardo, and Taulava - as well as the best centers in Asia.
“Kung lalaki pa katawan niya, magka-muscle at ma-develop ... Masipag siya, mangyayari at mangyayari 'yun. It’s only a matter of time na magiging isa siya sa premiere big men sa liga. He’s showing glimpses of that already,” he said.
“Attitude, coachability, talent, yung physical attributes niya. Malaki siya, but he has the potential to build a body. Payat lang talaga siya, pero marami namang payat na lumaki rin ang katawan. At kahit payat siya, he is wiry. Malakas ang katawan niya. He can guard bigger men, heavier and stronger than he is,” said the Pampanga congressman.
Asked if Almazan can already guard somebody in the mold of Iran’s Hamed Haddadi, Guiao did not hesitate to express faith in his prized cager.
“(Si Haddadi?) NBA caliber 'yun. Pero siguro if he gains another 20 pounds, pwede natin sabihin na pwede na. Pero 'yung tapang niya at resilience, andun na,” said Guiao.