SINCE it was instituted in 1985, the Rookie Draft has given the PBA a steady stream of fresh talent which could either be a building block for strong teams, but most of the time a future-altering addition for lower-tier teams.
But weak or strong, PBA teams go into the draft with one dream: land that once-in-a-generation player that can alter the course of a franchise.
There were Benjie Paras of Formula Shell in 1989 and Allan Caidic for Great Taste two years earlier. There, too, were Marlou Aquino for Ginebra in 1996 and, most recently, June Mar Fajardo of San Miguel in the 2012 draft.
And then there were entire draft classes that not only changed the fortunes of one team but also caused a power shift in the league.
So 35 years since the PBA held its first draft with Sonny Cabatu emerging as the top pick overall by Shell, we examined each and every draft class to pick the best and the deepest among them.
Here are the standouts:
1989 PBA Draft
Top Pick: Benjie Paras (Shell)
Rookie of the Year/ Season MVP: Benjie Paras (Shell)
First Rounders: Benjie Paras, Nelson Asaytono, Zaldy Realubit, Bong Alvarez, Romy dela Rosa, Bobby Jose
Succeeding Picks: Dindo Pumaren, Elmer Cabahug, Nani Demegillo, Ricric Marata, Peter Aguilar, Ato Agustin, Bennett Palad, Junel Baculi
Top pick Benjie Paras looked destined for greatness from the time he starred for the San Beda Red Cubs in the NCAA juniors. But "The Tower of Power" exceeded those expectations by becoming the league's first and only rookie MVP.
But he wasn't the only gem in his batch.
Nelson Asaytono, the No. 2 pick, established a reputation as one of the league's premier talents in his stops in Purefoods, Sunkist, and San Miguel. He ended a long career at No. 5 in the league's all-time scoring list with 12,668 points.
Third pick Bong Alvarez won the Comeback Player of the Year twice and earned a Mr. Quality Minutes distinction across his stints in Alaska, Sta. Lucia, Shell, San Miguel, and Ginebra. He once scored a then-record 71 points in one game.
The 1989 batch also delivered the only second rounder to win an MVP award as Ato Agustin bagged the top individual plum in 1992 for San Miguel. He went on to have a long, successful career across the PBA and MBA.
When you talk about this batch, you don't stop with these four. First-rounders Zaldy Realubit, Romy dela Rosa and Bobby Jose as well as second-rounders Dindo Pumaren, Ricric Marata, Elmer Cabahug, and Peter Aguilar had successful careers in the pro league.
So deep is this batch that third-round picks Jerry Ruiz, Salvador Ramos, Tony dela Cerna and Nandi Garcia and fourth-rounder Calvin Tuadles had PBA careers to speak of and undrafted Bennett Palad spent three years in the league.
So who comes close to this batch? Here are a few.
1993 PBA Draft
Top Pick: Jun Limpot (Sta. Lucia)
Rookie of the Year: Jun Limpot (Sta. Lucia)
First Rounders: Jun Limpot, Vic Pablo, Johnny Abarrientos, Dwight Lago, Benny Cheng, Johnedel Cardel, Boyet Fernandez, Dickie Bachmann
Succeeding Picks: Mike Mustre, Olsen Racela, Freddie Abuda, Max Delantes, Jack Santiago, Gee Abanilla
Jun Limpot was without a doubt the top prospect in the 1993 class after winning three UAAP MVP awards with La Salle. He sure showed that prowess for Sta. Lucia and later Purefoods, where he won his only career championship.
But it was a player picked two selections later, Johnny Abarrientos, who turned out to be the best product of this class, winning the 1996 MVP as he quarterbacked Alaska to a rare Grand Slam.
Aside from the two, this batch also produced top talents in Olsen Racela, Vic Pablo, Boyet Fernandez, Dickie Bachmann, Mike Mustre, Freddie Abuda, and 'Mad' Max Delantes.
2006 PBA Draft
Top Pick: Kelly Williams (Sta. Lucia)
Rookie of the Year: Kelly Williams (Sta. Lucia)
First Rounders: Kelly Williams, Arwind Santos, Joseph Yeo, LA Tenorio, Gabby Espinas, Mark Isip, Aaron Aban, Mac Andaya, Boyet Bautista, Abby Santos
Succeeding Picks: Jireh Ibanes, RJ Rizada, Ronjay Enrile, Christian Luanzon, Magnum Membrere, Chico Lanete
Everybody expected Kelly Williams and Arwind Santos to do great things in the PBA, and with them being taken with the first two picks in the 2006 Draft, little did they know that their careers will forever be intertwined.
Williams got the headstart, winning the Rookie of the Year honors before steering Sta. Lucia to the 2008 Philippine Cup that made him that season's MVP plum. His career took a brief setback after the Fil-Am was diagnosed with thrombocytopenia, but he won five more titles in a career rebirth at TnT.
Belated as Santos' run may be, that only set him up for greater things. Traded from Air21 to San Miguel, the two-time UAAP MVP went on to finally capture the MVP award in 2013 as he was a crucial part of the Beermen's dynasty in the 2010s and won nine PBA titles, including five straight in the all-Filipino conference.
The 2006 batch, however, is more than just Williams and Santos.
Joseph Yeo was unsurprisingly one of the best scorers during his time, Gabby Espinas and Mark Isip were key role players wherever team they found themselves in, and how could we forget LA Tenorio, who remains at the peak of his powers for Ginebra.
2004 PBA Draft
Top Pick: Rich Alvarez (Shell)
Rookie of the Year: Rich Alvarez (Shell)
First Rounders: Rich Alvarez, James Yap, Marc Pingris, Ranidel de Ocampo, Sonny Thoss, Denver Lopez, Ervin Sotto, Bitoy Omolon, Wesley Gonzales, Gary David
Succeeding Picks: Paul Artadi, Carlo Sharma, Nino Gelig, Willy Wilson, Epok Quimpo, Warren Ybanez
Rich Alvarez was touted to be a game-changer the moment he arrived in the league, and rightfully so, as he won the Rookie of the Year honors in 2005 with Shell.
But it was the second overall pick James Yap who took his game to great heights. Taking the torch from Purefoods legend Alvin Patrimonio, Yap embraced being the new face of the franchise as he won the MVP plums in 2006 and 2010 while capturing seven titles along the way, highlighted by a grand slam in 2014.
After them, Marc Pingris, Ranidel de Ocampo, Sonny Thoss, and Gary David all had solid careers of their own, while also earning callups to the national team.
Paul Artadi and Willy Wilson also turned out to be gems, enjoying respectable runs despite sliding to the second round.
2003 PBA Draft
Top Pick: Mike Cortez (Alaska)
Rookie of the Year: Jimmy Alapag (Talk 'N Text)
First Rounders: Mike Cortez, Rommel Adducul, Eddie Laure, Harvey Carey, Brandon Cablay, Billy Mamaril, Enrico Villanueva, Marlon Legaspi, Reynel Hugnatan, Jimmy Alapag
Succeeding Picks: Sunday Salvacion, John Ferriols, Cyrus Baguio, Ronald Tubid
The Cool Cat may be taken first, but the Mighty Mouse had the last laugh.
All eyes were on Mike Cortez and Jimmy Alapag as they bannered the 2003 class, and rightfully so as they presented themselves as the future for Alaska and Talk 'N Text, respectively. The two matched everyone's expectations, with Cortez winning two for the Aces before adding another in his time with San Miguel, and Alapag took home six rings on top of his 2011 MVP award.
Rommel Adducul was poised to be a future star in the league and immediately won two titles with Ginebra before a nasopharynx cancer slowed his career down.
It's a class filled with solid cogs, with Eddie Laure, Harvey Carey, Billy Mamaril, Enrico Villanueva, and Reynel Hugnatan all figuring in the first round, while Sunday Salvacion, John Ferriols, Cyrus Baguio, and Ronald Tubid all enjoying solid runs despite being taken in the second round.
2011 PBA Draft
Top Pick: JVee Casio (Powerade)
Rookie of the Year: Paul Lee (Rain or Shine)
First Rounders: JVee Casio, Paul Lee, Chris Lutz, Marcio Lassiter, Mark Barroca, Mac Baracael, Jason Ballesteros, Allein Maliksi, Reil Cervantes, Dylan Ababou
Succeeding Picks: Magi Sison, Pamboy Raymundo, Eric Salamat, Gilbert Bulawan
The "Smart Gilas" draft proved a bounty of talent, yet it was Paul Lee - the only non-national team player taken in the top five - who took home the Rookie of the Year honors and remains as the only part of the class to take home the Best Player of the Conference award. He did eventually earn a Gilas callup.
Despite that, the batch remains a who's who of top stars in the PBA today, from JVee Casio, Marcio Lassiter, Mark Barroca, to Allein Maliksi.
1994 PBA Draft
Top Pick: Noli Locsin (Tondena 65 Rhum)
Rookie of the Year: Boybits Victoria (Swift)
First Rounders: Noli Locsin, Rey Evangelista, Boybits Victoria, Richie Ticzon, Poch Juinio, Merwin Castelo, Noynoy Falcasantos, Vince Hizon
Succeeding Picks: Wilmer Ong, Cris Bolado, Peter Naron, Udoy Belmonte
Noli Locsin personified what this 1994 class was: a hardworking bunch which greatly contributed to their respective teams' success. From first rounders in Rey Evangelista, Boybits Victoria, Richie Ticzon, Poch Juinio, and Vince Hizon to second round selections in Wilmer Ong and Cris Bolado (who won 11 titles across seven teams), this batch were all winners.
2001 PBA Draft
Top Pick: Willie Miller (Red Bull)
Rookie of the Year: Mark Caguioa (Ginebra)
First Rounders: Willie Miller, Mike Hrabak, Mark Caguioa, Gilbert Demape, John Arigo, Kiko Adriano, Norman Gonzales, Marvin Ortiguerra, Roger Yap, Joey Mente
Succeeding Picks: Ricky Calimag, Jojo Tangkay, Mon Jose, Allan Salangsang, Dominic Uy, Francis Zamora, Peter June Simon, Topex Robinson, Allen Patrimonio
Big things were expected from Willie Miller and Mark Caguioa, and they did, leading their teams to championships while winning MVP honors to their own.
But what made the 2001 stand out were the rare finds this batch presented. From Roger Yap and Joey Mente being picked late in the first round, to draft steals Peter June Simon and Topex Robinson dropping to as far as the fifth round, this class showed that there's really no guarantee when it comes to the draft.