NATIONAL University juniors standout Justine Baltazar hopes to be able to play like his idols Raymond Almazan of Rain or Shine and Arwind Santos of San Miguel in the PBA someday.
The way he played for the Bullpups, the early signs are quite good.
The 19-year-old beanpole made quite an impression in his high school career, capping it off with a Finals MVP award after he led the NU Bullpups to the UAAP Season 78 juniors crown last Friday with a win over De La Salle-Zobel.
Now bound for college, not a few expect the UAAP juniors star to dominate the collegiate level much like Almazan, a tall, skinny player who excelled on both sides of the floor with his length and agility during his time with Letran.
ABS-CBN Sports broadcaster Marco Benitez noted some stark similarities between the 6-7 Baltazar and Almazan.
“From what I can see, the most obvious (similarity) would be the height, the length and their build,” said Benitez, who covered the juniors finals series for the giant network.
“Like Almazan, Baltazar's very active around the rim and likes to crash the boards. He has great timing and is a solid shotblocker. He also likes to get up and down in transition like Almazan,” he added.
The 6-foot-9 Almazan has since become a vital cog for the Elasto Painters in the PBA, and is even being considered by Tab Baldwin to join the Gilas Pilipinas squad.
To no one's surprise, Almazan was mentioned by Baltazar as one of his favorite players when he was tossed the question by the ABS-CBN Sports panel prior to the broadcast of Game Three of the juniors basketball finals.
“Tinanong po ako kung sino idol ko, sabi ko, Almazan tsaka Arwind Santos,” said the prodigy from Pampanga.
Baltazar said he definitely aims to play a similar game like Almazan someday as he seeks to do well in the college game, following his successful stint with the Bullpups.
“Idol ko po siya,” said the soft-spoken Almazan. “Medyo kailangan ko pa i-angat (‘yung laro ko).”
Benitez said Baltazar has some work to do.
“What he still lacks would probably be Almazan's midrange game, explosiveness, and of course, the swag. But you can see glimpses of it, especially after a block,” Benitez pointed out.
Baltazar knows he has a lot of work ahead.
“’Yung iba, hindi pa po. Kasi lumilipad po talaga siya sa ilalim at magaling sa poste,” said Baltazar of his idol.