ROOKIE hopefuls who never get any mention in the run-up to Sunday's draft need only to look back on PJ Simon's own draft story to find inspiration.
The San Mig Coffee star was unheard of back when he joined the PBA draft in 2001, the reason he had to wait until the fifth round before Sta. Lucia Realty finally drafted him with the 43rd pick overall.
Worse, the Makilala, North Cotabato native was never signed by the Realtors, leaving him to bounce around in the MBA and PBL for the next few years while wondering if he has what it takes to make it to the big league.
“Oo, muntik na akong tamarin noon. Pero talagang kinausap ko sa sarili ko at sinabi ko: 'Ngayon pa ba ako susuko? Hindi lahat nabibigyan ng chance makatuntong dito sa PBA,'” said Simon.
They Said It!
“Hindi lang talaga ako nawalan ng pagasa … talagang nag pursige lang ako. Imagine, 43rd pick lang ako. Hindi na halos maalala yung spot na 'yun." - PJ Simon
The former University of Mindanao sniper spent the next three years sharpening his game in the MBA and PBL before he was finally offered a contract by Purefoods to back up now best buddy James Yap.
The Purefoods offer came at a time when he was close to giving up, Simon said.
“That time bago ako nakuha ng Purefoods, parang nag-gi-give up na ko sa basketball career ko,” he recalled. “Wala kasing pumapansin sa akin halos noon.”
“Pero ayun nga. Dinaan ko na lang sa dedication sa game. Nagpursige ako nang husto at tinuloy ko lang yung disiplina ko sa paglalaro ng basketball,” added the streak-shooting guard.
Now, Simon is one of the stars of San Mig, owner of four league championships as well as an MVP award from the 2008 PBA All-Star Game and a Mr. Quality Minutes honor from the PBA Press Corps.
Looking back, the 33-year-old self-described 'super sub' said his success was the result of hard work and a dogged determination to become the best basketball player than he can be.
“Hindi lang talaga ako nawalan ng pagasa … talagang nag pursige lang ako. Imagine, 43rd pick lang ako. Hindi na halos maalala yung spot na 'yun,” he said.
“Pero talagang itinanim ko lang sa isip ko nun: ‘Gusto kong maglaro ng basketball.' Kaya tyinaga ko siya nang husto noon,” Simon said.
Asked what advice he can give to unheralded rookie hopefuls in the record 85-man pool, Simon said: “Basta ma-draft ka man o hindi, as long as maniniwala ka sa sarili mo at 'yung dedication mo sa game andun, walang imposible.
“Wag silang kabahan. Dapat nga mas ma-inspire pa silang magpakitang gilas para mas mapansin sila. Ako siguro kung hindi ko ginawa yun noong araw, baka wala ako ngayon dito,” he added.
Simon also has words of inspiration for seldom-used PBA players, saying he too had to go through the ordeal of fighting to earn one short contract after another for four years.
“Oo apat na taon rin ako na one-year, one-year lang ang contract. Pero hindi ako nag-give up. Lalo kung hinasa ang laro ko,” said Simon.
“Kasi pagka ganoon ang sitwasyon mo, hindi pwedeng pa-relax-relax. Kailangan talaga disiplina at dagdag ensayo. At huwag kalimutang magdasal.”