IVAN Villanueva wasn’t exactly one of the most sought-after players coming out of high school, but the former Letran Squire emerged as the most impressive rookie, statistics-wise, after the first week of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament.
The 19-year-old Villanueva, selected as a Mythical Team member during the 2011 NCAA juniors competition, scored 15 points and had nine rebounds to show the way for the Falcons, who had four other rookies straight out of high school this season.
The numbers were actually better than those of other celebrated rookies in the league such as Arvin Tolentino and Thirdy Ravena, who both played for Ateneo.
Although he stands just six feet flat, Villanueva has a wide frame that quickly invited comparisons with Rain or Shine's 'Extra Rice Inc.' pair of Beau Belga and JR Quinahan.
Like Belga, Villanueva also showed he can carry that weight, keeping the Falcons in the game early on with his baskets from around the paint and a nice touch from afar as he stood as one of the few bright spots for Adamson in a 57-79 loss to the Blue Eagles.
The Falcons freshman also happens to be the first cousin of PBA player Enrico Villanueva. Their fathers are twins.
The rookie immediately drew praise from Falcons coach Kenneth Duremdes.
“He is young and has a lot more to learn. Although undersized, the guy is tough,” said Duremdes, the former PBA MVP who is in his first season as coach of the lowly Falcons.
“For a rookie who played before a huge crowd against a tough defense, it’s good. He is stable and smart."
Villanueva shot 6-of-9 from the field including a three pointer. He scored six points in the first quarter and added five in the fourth when the outcome of the game was already decided.
If there's one thing the rookie needs to work on, it's his stamina, the coach said.
‘Yun lang, he needs to be more active in running down kasi medyo tatlo, apat, lima, wala na eh,” said Duremdes in referring to Villanueva’s stamina.
“As the tournament goes, makukuha rin niya ‘yung game shape. He just have to be patient,” he added.