YOU'VE seen Calvin Abueva make a star turn for Gilas Pilipinas in the Fiba Asia Championship, probably heard that Ian Sangalang has joined 'The Beast' in the pool of PBA players for the coming Olympic qualifiers.
Well, there's more where they came from.
A province that prides itself with its giant lanterns, Pampanga is now set to roll out two giant players in the future that it hopes would cement its reputation as a gold mine for top basketball talent.
Thanks to a multi-million talent search and development program launched by Vice Governor Dennis Pineda, the province has two 6-8 players in Justin Baltazar and Jay Pangalanggan in a deep, talent-laden pool of players aspiring to follow in the footsteps of Abueva some day.
"Madami po tayong players dito. Gagawin po nating minahan ng talento ang lalawigan ng Pampanga. Kasi basketball po talaga ang numero unong hilig ng mga cabalen natin dito," Pineda told Spin.ph on Friday.
Baltazar has already seen action for the National University high school team in the NCAA and Pineda expects the big man to make an impact in the college leagues in the next few years.
Baltazar was discovered by Pineda back in 2012 during the formation of his Pampanga team for the now defunct Coca-Cola PBA Young Stars league. He has come a long way since.
"Dun namin hinasa si Justin as well as sa iba pang liga na sinasalihan namin. Maganda ang performance ng bata saka may basketball IQ. Hindi takot makipagbanggaan, gaya nila Calvin at Ian," said Pineda.
Pangalanggan, 15, is still a work in progress but Pampanga's sports director, Allan Trinidad, bared the teen was a lot better than Sangalang was at his age.
"Tine-train pa namin 'yung si Jayjay pero si Justin, ready for UAAP seniors na 'yan," Pineda said.
Trinidad said Pampanga's basketball program is patterned after scholarships given out in the US, where education also plays a big role. The pool currently has over 30 players, only a few standing below six feet.
"May programa kasi kami dito based sa mga nasa US. Pinag-aaral namin sila tapos susunduin ng van ibabalik dito sa quarters tapos training sa basketball at conditioning," said Trinidad, a former head coach of the San Sebastian Stags in the NCAA.
"Yung Pangalanggan, mapapansin mo, malambot pa yan. Pero papatigasin namin 'yan. Maniwala ka't sa hindi, mas malambot si Ian (Sangalang) dyan nung una naming makuha," he added.
Pineda, son of Pampanga governor Lilian, said: "Regular ang ating tryouts at di tayo kumukuha sa pool ng hindi bababa sa six feet. Kasi alam naman natin na mas mahalaga ang height sa basketball."
Pineda, of course, has been behind the careers of a long line of PBA players from the province.
Aside Abueva and Sangalang, former PBA MVP Arwind Santos and Ronald Pascual came from his stable. There, too, is Larry Muyang and Darryl Pascual with the Dela Salle Green Archers in the UAAP seniors, as well as Baltazar and Neil Jay Tolentino in the NCAA juniors.
"'Yun ang programa natin. Gusto ko po maging parang ilog na tuloy tuloy ang agos ng talento ng mga batang Pampangueno sa basketball. At natutuwa po ako na nakikita naman ng mga kababayan natin ang pag-usbong ng mahuhusay na manlalaro dito," said Pineda.
Asked why he is so aggressive in honing players, Pineda said, "Masaya ako na makita silang makikilala sa larangan na tinulungan ko sila. At nung last Fiba Asia, mas na-inspire ako na maghasa ng players dahil da ipinakita ni Calvin.
"Napakasarap na kahit kaunti eh nakakatulong tayo sa pagpapayabong ng basketball sa ating bansa. At heto nga, may Calvin at Ian na tayo sa national team. Mas madami pa tayong ilalabas balang araw," he said with a smile.