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    What happened to the first batch of the special Gilas draftees?

    Feb 26, 2021

    ALMOST half a decade since the since the PBA introduced the special Gilas draft, only one of the first 12 draftees remains a part of the national team and merited a callup for the training pool for the supposed third window of the 2021 Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers.

    The move, given the stamp of approval by the Board of Governors, was geared to help the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) have its own core of players as the league distributed national team cadets to its 12 member ballclubs.

    Under the agreement, the players will be called up for national team duty at least two months before a Fiba-sanctioned tournament and cannot be traded for at least two seasons.

    In theory, it was a good move as the pro league reiterated its commitment in helping the Gilas program.

    And as another PBA draft approaches and a third special Gilas draft in five seasons, we look back on how things are going for these brave cadets.

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    Mac Belo


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    Despite the secrecy that went in the distribution proccess, Belo was without question the first name taken from the list as Blackwater snagged the 2015 UAAP Finals MVP from Far Eastern University.

    And like his performance for the Tamaraws, the 6-foot-4 forward was a silent assassin for the Elite. That was until his knee problems sidelined him in his rookie season.

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    Belo continued to be a solid producer for Blackwater, and even had his best year in the 2019 season, averaging 12.3 points on 44-percent shooting, 5.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.0 steal, but his injury woes, both on his knees and back, prevented him from doing more.

    The Elite eventually traded him to Meralco in this offseason for Baser Amer and Bryan Faundo.

    Matthew Wright


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    Wright provided instant impact the moment he made it to the PBA, and him coming to Phoenix, which had his former Westports Malaysia Dragons coach Ariel Vanguardia, was a match made in heaven.

    The Fil-Canadian gunner benefited from that partnership, leading the rookies in scoring that season as he logged 16.5 points on 34-percent three-point shooting, along with 6.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.1 steals.

    Success, however, eluded the Fuel Masters which led to him settling for runner-up honors for the Rookie of the Year award.

    Wright did continue to deliver for Phoenix, emerging as the face of the franchise and even stepped it up in the 2020 Philippine Cup, where he posted a career-best 21.1 points on a 39-percent clip from threes, and 5.5 assists to finish second in the Best Player of the Conference race, losing only to Stanley Pringle.

    After four seasons, the 6-foot-4 sniper has a Mythical First and Second Team honors under his belt.

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    Kevin Ferrer

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    Ferrer learned from veterans led by Joe Devance as he became a lethal 3-and-D option for the Gin Kings.

    The pesky University of Santo Tomas product was just the perfect spark off the bench for Ginebra, netting a modest 5.4 points on 28-percent clip from deep, 2.7 boards and 1.9 assists in his 17.9 minutes on the floor in that rookie season en route to helping Ginebra claim the 2017 Governors' Cup crown.

    He continued to be a reliable wing option for the Gin Kings, winning one more title in the 2018 Commissioner's Cup, until he was sent to NorthPort in a package with Sol Mercado and Jervy Cruz for Stanley Pringle back in June 2019.

    Ferrer had his best season in the Clark bubble, posting 10.8 points on 38-percent clip from the outside, as well as 4.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists for the Batang Pier.

    Roger Pogoy

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    Tailor-fit was Pogoy the moment he landed in TNT, thriving under the guidance of his former FEU coach - now Blackwater mentor - Nash Racela.

    Posting numbers to the tune of 11.1 points on 33-percent clip from deep, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in 27.9 minutes, the Minglanilla, Cebu-born shooter helped the flagship team of the MVP Group become legitimate contenders that season, appearing constantly in the semifinals and even finishing as bridesmaid in the 2017 Commissioner's Cup.

    His solid play paid dividends as he emerged as that season's Rookie of the Year, and continued to enjoy success in TNT the following seasons and earned a Mythical Second Team nod in the 2019 season.

    Now firmly a part of the Tropang Giga's core, Pogoy had his finest showing this past 2020 Philippine Cup with his 20.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and is undoubtedly a foundational piece of the franchise's future.

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    Jio Jalalon

    Landing in a guard-heavy Hotshots crew might have been a death knell to some, all the more for a 5-foot-9 guard like Jalalon.

    But this pride of Cagayan de Oro proved it otherwise, leaving his imprint and delivering 9.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.2 steals in that rookie campaign which led to him being feted as that season's Mr. Quality Minutes and a part of the All-Defensive Team.

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    He showed no letups with his defensive intensity in the coming seasons, becoming a crucial piece of Magnolia's backcourt battalion that netted them the 2018 Governors' Cup title.

    Jalalon has now cemented himself as a certified sparkplug off the bench, having his best statistical year in the 2019 season where the Arellano guard had 9.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.7 steals in 25.3 minutes.

    Mike Tolomia


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    Tolomia, alongside fellow Gilas cadet Ed Daquioag, were among the first ones from this batch to see new teams, with the FEU playmaker going from Rain or Shine to Meralco.

    That swap, which was done in August 2017, sent the Zamboanga City native to a Bolts side armed with guards that he had to fight tooth-and-nail just to get his minutes.

    Two years later, Tolomia was traded again this time to Blackwater, but immediatly faced injury woes upon his arrival.

    The 5-foot-11 guard, however, seemed like he was slowly getting back to his old groove, posting 8.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.1 steals in 21.9 minutes for the Elite inside the Clark bubble.

    Ed Daquioag


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    Like Tolomia, Daquioag was also on the move in that rookie season, going from Meralco to Rain or Shine.

    That trade did pay dividends for the Dingras, Ilocos Norte native, slowly earning his spurs as a solid contributor in the coming seasons as the Elasto Painters consistently made the playoffs, and even got his moments in the process.

    The 6-foot-1 UST product was traded to Blackwater in February 2020 as a part of the Poy Erram-to-TNT three-team deal, sending him to his third team in four seasons.

    Daquioag did make the most of the situation, delivering for the Elite inside the Clark bubble with career-bests to the tune of 10.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in 27.6 minutes on the floor.

    Von Pessumal


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    Pessumal played two conferences for GlobalPort before he was sent to San Miguel in exchange for Arnold Van Opstal.

    It was a tough adjustment for the Ateneo sniper to find opportunities in a loaded Beermen crew, but he slowly became a dependable option off the bench and even shot 41-percent from deep in the 2019 season.

    The hard work did pay off for the 6-foot-2 swingman in the 2020 Philippine Cup as he garnered more playing time in Clark and churned a career-best 6.6 points on 31-percent three-point shooting and 2.6 rebounds in 16.8 minutes of action.

    Pessumal, as expected of being a part of a dominating San Miguel crew, is the most decorated of this batch, already having three rings to boot across four seasons.

    Russel Escoto


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    It was a promising start for Escoto for the then-Mahindra team, averaging 8.0 points on 67-percent shooting from threes, along with 4.0 rebounds in 18.0 minutes, but an ACL injury 10 games into the season cut that rookie year short.

    The Angeles City native was never the same after that, with injuries on his knee and shoulder hounding him constantly as he turned into a journeyman, being traded three times already in five years.

    He briefly played for NorthPort from August 2019, before being sent to San Miguel in January 2020, teaming up with his bilas Arwind Santos.

    Escoto would return later to now-Terrafirma, with the Beermen trading him, Matt Ganuelas-Rosser, and Gelo Alolino, as well as a pair of picks, for CJ Perez.

    Carl Bryan Cruz


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    Curiously, Cruz's performance for Gilas was a lot better than his run for his mother ballclub Alaska.

    Utilized as a stretch four in the national team, the FEU banger struggled to find his niche for the Aces and after three years, was eventually sent to Blackwater for Abu Tratter in September 2019.

    Moving to the Elite seemingly rejuvenated the 6-foot-4 forward, who nabbed 8.1 points on 33-percent shooting from deep, as well as 3.6 rebounds in 20.6 minutes in the 2019 season before he dealt with a knee injury.

    Cruz skipped the Clark bubble as he continued to recover from his injury and is looking to bounce back stronger this coming season.

    Arnold Van Opstal



    Van Opstal got a lot of firsts as a part of this class.

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    He was the first to win a ring after San Miguel won the first two conferences that season, he was the first cadet to be dropped from the Gilas pool, and he was also the first to be on the move, swapping places with Pessumal in July 2017.

    The trade should have signalled for a reboot for the Fil-German center from La Salle who sparingly played in his time for the loaded San Miguel team, but a knee injury immediately cut his rookie season short.

    He only posted 1.5 points and 1.3 rebounds in 3.2 minutes back in that rookie season and never returned to the Batang Pier until his contract expired in 2018.

    Van Opstal was rumored to be making a comeback with TNT in 2019, but nothing materialized from those talks.

    Fonso Gotladera


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    Gotladera was seldomly used in his two years in NLEX, falling behind the likes of JR Quinahan, Asi Taulava, Michael Miranda, and Raul Soyud.

    The Ateneo big man last played in the 2017-18 season, posting 1.9 points and 2.0 rebounds in 6.8 minutes.

    He soon suited up for FamilyMart-Enderun in the 2019 PBA D-League Aspirants' Cup, as well as Bataan Risers and Pasig Sta. Lucia Realtors in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL).

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