JUNE Mar Fajardo’s PBA dream is now a reality.
Described by one veteran coach as a “man among boys,” Fajardo was as expected made the top pick overall by Petron in a rookie draft that witnessed its share of surprises at a jampacked Robinsons Midtown Mall in Ermita, Manila.
Fajardo became head of a 39-man draft class that was one of the most talented in years as he became the first player with Cebu roots to be named No. 1 pick since Kelly Williams in 2006 – and the first homegrown Cebuano to become the top pick since Apet Jao in 1990.
The youngest in the batch at 22, he was also the 21st big man to head a rookie class since the draft was instituted in 1985.
“Watching him during the tryouts is like watching a man going up against the boys,” B-Meg coach Tim Cone gushed in describing the 6’9” Fajardo. “Actually, I feel like watching Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) coming out of the draft.”
Alaska’s bid to rebuild its fabled team after a woeful season got a big boost when the Aces picked NCAA scoring and rebounding monster Calvin Abueva at second overall, but the drafting took a surprising turn from there when Petron took Alex Mallari instead of a more heralded Fil-American, Cliff Hodge, with its second pick in the first round.
Mallari starred for PBA D-League Foundations Cup runner-up Big Chill, averaging 12 points and 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals. His versatility easily makes the Boosters a tournament favorite in the 38th season opening on September 30.
Hodge instead fell on the lap of the Meralco Bolts, but another surprise pick emerged at No. 5 when the Barako Bull chose Far Eastern University product Aldriche Ramos, who barely 10 minutes would be packaged in a trade for Sean Anthony and B-Meg’s second-round pick and 12th overall.
On the other hand, Barangay Ginebra utilized the sixth and eighth pick by selecting two explosive Fil-Ams in Chris Ellis and Keith Jensen.
The biggest surprise involved longtime amateur star Chris Tiu, a consensus Top Four pick who was shunned by both Ginebra and Petron and ended up sliding all the way down to No. 7 when he was picked by Rain or Shine.
B-Meg traded its no. 9 pick and forward Val Acuna to newcomer Global Port, who in turn gave up forward Sean Anthony to the Llamados.
Batang Pier went on to make one-time D-League MVP Vic Manuel the no. 9 pick, while adding Fil-Am Jason Deuchman for its 10th pick to close the first round.
Air21 opened the second round by selecting former Mapua slotman Yousi Taha, while Barako Bull used the 12th pick it got from the B-Meg trade to draft former San Beda standout Dave Marcelo.
B-Meg selected former NU Bulldog banger Jewel Ponferada as the no. 13 pick, while Global Port got for its 14th pick, 5’11” playmaker Alfred Mandani, who saw action for Blackwater in the D-League.
Barako Bull continued to shore up its backcourt by tapping former Adamson point guard Lester Alvarez along with ex-Ateneo guard Emman Monfort with the 15th and 16th pick.
Meralco got to pick Fil-Am Kelly Nabong at No. 17 after trading its 2015 second-round right to Rain or Shine.
Rounding out the second-round draftees were Woody Co (Barako Bull), former UE guard Raphy Reyes (Alaska) and Jaypee Belencion (Talk ‘N Text).
Rookie hopefuls selected in the third round were Simon Atkins (Air21), Karl Dehesa (Alaska), Ryan Boado (Barako Bull), Janus Lozada (Meralco), Mark Sarangay (Petron), Mark Acosta (Global Port), Raymund Austria (Rain or Shine), Jerick Canada (Barangay Ginebra), Gian Chiu (B-Meg) and Jason Escueta (Talk ‘N Text).
In the fourth round, Alaska, Air21, Petron and Talk ‘N Text decided to pass, while Barako Bull chose Joseph Hermosisima, Meralco tapped Eric Suguitan, Rain or Shine selected Jewel Palomique, Barangay Ginebra chose Paul Zamar and B-Meg took in Ramon Mabayo.
The fifth round only had two picks – Virgilio Serios went to Global Port, while Virgil Buensuceso was drafted by Barangay Ginebra. The draft proceedings ended in the sixth round with Elliot Tan going to the Gin Kings as well.