September 23, 2019
We have reached the point when being 6’7” is no longer a guarantee of entry in the PBA. This is a very welcome development so we can finally rid ourselves of the Samigue Emans of the world.
Eman was a 6’9” player drafted 2nd overall in the 2007 PBA Draft by the Magnolia Beverage Masters, now San Miguel, with all the red flags on motor and skill. It was so embarrassing, the SMC flagship franchise had to change their name—among other reasons.
While 2007 did not exactly rock the PBA at the seams, the team did pass on talent like Doug Kramer, JC Intal, JR Quinahan and Ryan Reyes. They all had long and impressive careers, compared to Eman’s nine-year stint where he never averaged above 4.4 points and 3 rebounds.
More than half of teams in the UAAP and NCAA have players above 6’7, not including the African imports. Playing against the strong and athletic African counterparts will definitely help the development of these players.
Interestingly, some 6’9 players, like Clifford Jopia of FEU, were even relegated to reserve status. Twelve years ago, he would have been a 2nd overall pick. Now that we have an increased height threshold (6’8 is the new 6’5), we now look for skill as well, which is how it should be.
That is one outcome of the World Cup experience, we now have a higher standard for the skills of our big men (or at least it was re-emphasized, if it wasn’t previously evident). JuneMar Fajardo was no longer as awesome as we thought he was, and we’re not just talking about height. We also realize that there is a lot of work for Greg Slaughter.
We have homegrown prospects that have already reached 6’7 in high school, and they can still gain a growth spurt like Kai Sotto did. Two of the most interesting names are Carl Tamayo of NU and Raven Cortez of DLSU. Both have given Kai some trouble in their match-ups.
A very promising prospect is 6’9 Justine Baltazar of DLSU. He is built sleek and he could be molded into a Kevin Durant type of player. In their win against Adamson, he sank a couple of three-point shots. He is not strong like a back-to-the-basket post-up player, and he can even beat his guards on the dribble.
La Salle does not force him to play center, which is good for his development since he is better suited as a small forward, like KD. He is more promising than the two other 6’9 players in the team (Brandon Bates, James Laput).
The common problem for player development is that any player above 6’4 is being made to play a big man role, especially for the schools and teams that don’t have taller players. While the ideal set-up is to play position-less basketball, there should be a program where players can play the position according to their skill, not height.
Browsing through the NCAA rosters, I noticed that most teams do have 6’7 local players as well. That’s a welcome development since they will do away with the imports starting next season. It would be a shame if someone as versatile as Calvin Oftana of San Beda would be forced to play center simply because he is the tallest player on the roster.
How much does height really matter?
Beau Belga and Vic Manuel are two of the best post operators in the PBA, and they have kept the bragging rights despite the influx of much taller players in the league.
Belga was part of the PCU Dolphins champion team along with Jayson Castro and Gabby Espinas. Realizing that being 6’4 would not be enough to make him a force in the pros, Belga took on the extra rice (Google his college pics) to set him apart. Perhaps he took a page from Chito Loyzaga, the Enforcer of the PBA.
Belga and Manuel are both undersized forwards, but they overcome that drawback with strength, wits and tenacity. Following that lead, should we no longer pursue height and just choose the most skilled players we have?
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