NEW hardcourt heroes are about to come out with the collegiate season in full swing.
And for sure, all eyes will be on the UAAP and the NCAA as the country's two biggest collegiate leagues give us a glimpse of the future (stars).
But playing in the top two collegiate leagues doesn't necessarily guarantee success in the pro ranks. In the same way that playing outside the UAAP and NCAA in college doesn't rule out a big pro career.
There are a lot of late-bloomers and diamonds in the rough who may have started in smaller schools yet not only made it to the big league but are actually thriving.
Spin.ph lists 15 players from small schools who went on to have big careers.
Let's start with the reigning five-time PBA MVP. The Queen City of the South has produced tons of stars, but no one quite like June Mar Fajardo.
The Pinamungajan native honed his skills under the tutelage of coach Rhoel Gomez and slowly worked on his fundamentals at University of Cebu, which for so long has played under the shadows of University of Visayas and Southwestern University.
Though still green, the 6-foot-10 Fajardo was courted by several Manila teams but chose to stay with the Webmasters for the entirety of his collegiate career, winning two CESAFI titles and three MVP awards while playing alongside Brian Heruela.
Once he left Cebu, there's no stopping him as his resume perfectly speaks for itself.
Going deeper down south stands PJ Simon, who traces his roots to University of Mindanao.
The Makilala, North Cotabato native has built his reputation as one of the most enthralling basketball stars to come from Mindanao, writing his lore among fans in Davao.
His game, however, was a relative unknown to Manila fans who only got to know him through his stint with the Davao Eagles in the now-defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) and eventually, in the PBL in the early 2000s.
Teams may have overlooked his game then - with Purefoods plucking him in the fifth round of the 2001 PBA Draft - but Simon has sure made a lot of those teams regret their decision of passing up on him.
"Pinoy Sakuragi" spent one year with Far Eastern University, but it wasn't until he took his act to PSBA that he finally got his feet wet.
Marc Pingris suited up for the Jaguars in the NCRAA and had a relatively decent run with the Cebu Gems in the MBA. Still, the potential cannot be ignored that the Pozorrubio, Pangasinan native was taken third in the 2004 PBA Draft.
And look where he is now: nine PBA titles, two Finals MVPs, three Defensive Player of the Year awards, on top of a number of national team stints.
Ranidel de Ocampo is arguably the finest player to come out of St. Francis of Assisi, or even the NCRAA, dare we say.
A four-time NCRAA MVP, he was the cornerstone of the Gabby Velasco-coached Doves squad which won multiple titles together with his brother Yancy, Ervin Sotto, and Al Vergara.
That prowess helped de Ocampo get picked fourth in the 2004 PBA Draft before going on to win six PBA championships and a pair of Finals MVP plums.
University of Manila was the first stop in Allein Maliksi's basketball voyage, with coach Ato Tolentino instilling toughness in him during his time with the Hawks.
But his stay didn't really take that long as the reed-thin forward soon transferred to University of Santo Tomas and eventually was hailed as the inaugural PBA D-League MVP back in the 2011 Foundation Cup for Cebuana Lhuillier.
Vic Manuel started his career for Lyceum of Subic Bay, forming a partnership with Ping Exciminiano, before taking his act to PSBA.
There, "The Muscle Man" made the most of his athletic gifts as he won the UCAA MVP under the guidance of coach Joseph Ocampo.
That was the springboard he needed to get known, playing for Cebuana Lhuillier in the PBA D-League, where he was the 2012 Aspirants' Cup MVP, before being taken ninth in the 2012 PBA Draft.
Coming from Saipan, Jericho Cruz's luck brought him to Rizal Technological University where he was a vital part of the Blue Thunder's championship run in the SCUAA back in 2010.
That two year-run also saw him team up with Philip Paniamogan as the Beaujing Acot-mentored crew contended in both the SCUAA and NCRAA.
He eventually transfered to Adamson, spending two years under coach Leo Austria before entering the 2014 PBA Draft, where he was picked ninth overall.
Jio Jalalon got his break at Informatics College as coach Budds Reyes capitalized on his relentlessness to lead the squad to a third place finish in NAASCU in 2011 - already the school's best finish.
That stint also saw the Cagayan de Oro native claim the Rookie of the Year award in his lone season for the Icons before taking his act to Arellano, where his shine would get more sparkle, leading to his inclusion to the national team pool and eventual jump to the PBA.
Jorey Napoles made history this 2018 PBA draft when he became the first TIP player to make it to the big league after Phoenix selected him at 12th overall.
The 6-foot-4 forward burst into the scene with his performances for the Potit de Vera-coached Engineers in the 2015 Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL) and sustained that form in the UCBL and with Marinerong Pilipino in the PBA D-League which proved to be his ticket to the big time.
The same historic feat was accomplished by Jonjon Gabriel, who also became the first player from CdSL to be drafted in the first round.
The 6-foot-6 forward capitalized on the confidence given him by coach Bonnie Garcia and helped the Griffins win the UCBL title this past year before going pro.
The Fil-Swede forward became the center of controversy in his lone year in NAASCU when he was the subject of a tug of war between EARIST and PCU.
But in the end, it was the Red Fox of coach Ringo Jimenez who secured his services before Cahilig went to Cignal HD in the 2017 PBA D-League Aspirants' Cup.
There, coach Boyet Fernandez seamlessly injected him to the San Beda core as the Hawkeyes claimed the crown before Cahilig made the leap to the PBA.
Easily the most successful of the Egay Macaraya-mentored CEU squad, Mon Abundo spent all of his five years with the Scorpions before landing at Magnolia.
The stocky playmaker played a huge part in CEU's success in NAASCU before becoming part of the core that led CafeFrance to the championship of the 2015 PBA D-League Foundation Cup.
Bong Galanza originally enrolled at University of Manila, leaning on his three-point shooting and defense to make a solid impression in his lone year with the UM Hawks in NAASCU.
He eventually jumped ship to University of the East, spending three years with the Red Warriors before finally getting his PBA break in 2016 with Mahindra.
Jackson Corpuz spent his collegiate years at PCU, but that was when the Dolphins were no longer in the NCAA.
Still, that couldn't stop him from making an impact, taking his wares to the PBA D-League by way of Racal Motors before Mahindra called him up in 2017.
It was a tough path to the PBA for Lervin Flores, who made numerous stops in his collegiate career before making it to the big league.
He was first enrolled at Angeles University Foundation in Pampanga, spending a year with the Great Danes.
He tried his luck in UST, but ultimately went to Our Lady of Fatima University, suiting up for the Phoenix for a season until he joined Arellano.