Taking you behind the scenes in the thought process behind a draft pick. The Aces could have traded that eighth pick to Meralco but they would have still taken Ryan Buenafe. Here's the story.
This appears in the PBA website
The Eighth Pick
by rick olivares
Some three months before the annual Philippine Basketball Association Draft, the Alaska Aces’ Luigi Trillo, like every other head coach in the league, began to think about the possibilities of the lottery.
Towards the tail end of the last conference, Trillo would give the draft some thought; sometimes after matches, during drives going home, and while walking around the neighborhood to do some thinking.
It increased with regularity and with greater introspection as the months blurred into weeks and weeks into days even until D-Day.
When the list of PBA applicants was made available three weeks before the draft, Trillo hunkered down with his assistants – Dickie Bachmann, Alex Compton, Louie Alas, and Topex Robinson – to pool their thoughts for debate and analysis.
The draft is exactly what it is said to be – a lottery. If history has demonstrated anything, there are winners and losers. As well as regrets.
Winners and losers
Since 2008, there have been there have been three very good draft years.
The first was 2008 where Gabe Norwood went first. Other first round notables still going strong to this day include second overall choice Jared Dillinger, third pick Jason Castro, fifth pick Sol Mercado, seventh pick Beau Belga, and ninth pick Larry Rodriguez.
Norwood, Belga, and Rodriguez had won a pair of titles with Rain or Shine. Dillinger and Castro had their arms full of championship trophies with the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters.
There’s “the Smart Gilas Draft” in 2011 where eight of the first 11 players selected played for the national team. Two years later, save for Jason Ballesteros and Magi Sison, all the others have been a part of their team’s regular rotation – JV Casio (#1), Chris Lutz (#3), Marcio Lassiter (#4), Mark Barroca (#5), and Mac Baracael (#6). Dylan Ababou who went #10 has had an injury-plagued pro career but when healthy, has shown potential. The second overall pick, Paul Lee looked to be the runaway star that season with his prodigious scoring exploits especially from three-point range. Lee has since tapered off although he remains a valuable weapon in Rain or Shine’s arsenal.
When Casio and Lassiter joined the Powerade Tigers, they led them to the Philippine Cup Finals where they fell short against TNT. Lutz too has gone to the PBA Finals with Petron although his team was somewhat unlucky. Barroca has had success with the recent title teams of B-Meg/San Mig.
And there’s the 2012 PBA Draft where Junemar Fajarado, Calvin Abueva, Alex Mallari, Cliff Hodge, Chris Tiu, and Vic Manuel have made names for themselves.
Alaska were huge winners in the 2012 sweepstakes when they tabbed Abueva who immediately galvanized the team with his enthusiasm, energy, hustle, spunk, and toughness.
Trillo let out a laugh when it is postulated that Abueva is more of a ‘Ginebra-type of player’. Even while playing for La Salle in college, Trillo loved to play defense. While the Alaska dynasty of the 1990s might be known for being the proponent of the Triple Post Offense in Philippine basketball, those teams played tough defense too. Moreso in the 80s, when they had the bangers and the tough hombres in Ricky Relosa and Yoyoy Villamin. They weren’t called ‘The Bruise Brothers’ for nothing. Plus, they had Frankie Lim, Pongky Alolor, and Biboy Ravanes.
While Alaska had Sonny Thoss who has manned that slot in a while, it was getting players like Gabby Espinas that Trillo felt would make this team better. “We’re known for our passing and execution,” described Trillo. “Even Cyrus (Baguio)’s style has become identified with us, but I wanted to bring a toughness to our team. Not a dirty type of toughness. But tough as in playing hard and going hard every time. Playing defense will win us championships.”
Trillo admired the creative ways for teams to get ahead in the draft. Truthfully, along with his assistants, they were happy with their current team. They wanted the team to grow more together. The plan was to keep the nucleus intact and let go of the 15th and 16th men that were Niño Gelig and Benedict Fernandez to make way for key additions.
The worth of the eighth pick
Alaska owned the eighth pick of the 2013 draft.
“The eighth pick,” mulled over Trillo during one of his walks around the neighborhood. “is where we either get a steal or a bust.”
In the previous five years, the players taken at the eighth spot were Bonbon Custodio (San Miguel), Chris Timberlake (Ginebra traded to Purefoods), Jimbo Aquino (Ginebra), Allein Maliksi (Petron traded to Barako Bull), and Keith Jensen (Ginebra). Custodio eventually went to Alaska but he didn’t stay too long. So there was the weight of expectations and the tide of history to reflect on.
The were a lot of options to this draft that certainly had depth. The first three – big and talented centers -- were pretty obvious choices for Ginebra, San Mig, and Rain or Shine. “One thing was clear,” recalled Trillo during the deliberation sessions with his coaching staff. “Picks four to seven were a mystery. Some people will take the best available talent. We go for what we need.”
In the weeks preceding the draft, Trillo and his staff watched a lot of game tape – UAAP, NCAA, and D-League. But the games he oft went back to were those of the Ateneo Blue Eagles that featured the enigmatic Buenafe.
The 6’2” forward was a point guard in a forward’s body. And that body was a concern – playing-wise. After his sterling rookie season with Ateneo, Buenafe’s weight had ballooned to that of a center. Yet he continued to defy things on the court from gravity to his Larry Bird-like passing. “I have seen no one make those passes that he does,” noted Trillo. “Not even point guards. I haven’t seen a passer as gifted as Ryan.”
He also heard of his alleged laziness. But when Buenafe did show up, the intensity of the practices picked up.
“There was also concern with his lateral defensive movement,” added Trillo lieutenant Alex Compton. “Not only that but at 6’2”, can he defend that spot against taller, faster, and more athletic forwards?”
While Ryan was a good on ball defender, chasing his man through picks was altogether another problem. “Let’s just say that he is not the quickest player sa court,” offered Alaska assistant Louie Alas.
For the Aces, that three-slot belonged to Tony dela Cruz and sometimes Dondon Hontiveros who would slide over. Both were sterling players who despite being on the downside of their career still had much to contribute.
The Aces’ coaches also liked Jeric Teng, Nico Salva, and Justin Chua but somehow Buenafe would always enter in the conversation.
“We researched some more and learned that he was a great teammate,” added Trillo. “It is a plus that he wants the ball during crucial moments. He understands ball movement and the pecking order.”
He then pronounced, “Ryan… could be our next Bong Hawkins.”
The Fred Uytengsu Test
Trillo and the coaches had made their decision. Now all they had to do was run it by their team owner, the irrepressible Fred Uytengsu.
Uytengsu was a firm believer in order, systems, respect, and perhaps more importantly, discipline. After all, the fifty-something businessman was a triathlete of the first order.
The CEO of Alaska asked his head coach, “How can you get a guy with 27% body fat? What is going to push him to get in better shape? Was he rich and pampered so he became lazy?”
Trillo had to stick his neck out for his choice. “Fred’s been a mentor,” said Trillo. “I learn a lot from him; still do in fact. “But I am going out on a limb here. There are certain guys you need on a team. It is quite possible that Ryan is that guy. He’s a winner. I hope that winning streak will continue with us in Alaska. I felt that I had Fred’s trust when Calvin panned out. Maybe lightning will strike twice.”
“If we weren’t going to get Ryan Buenafe with the eighth pick, I was going to trade that pick to Meralco for a first round selection in the 2015 draft. If Ryan was still available in the second round, I’d get him still. We could have taken a chance and traded that pick but he might not be around in the second round.”
On draft day, PBA teams are shown the picks of the two teams ahead of them so they can adjust their selections accordingly.
In the minutes before Alaska’s turn to make their draft choice, word filtered to the Aces’ coaching staff that Nico Salva, Jeric Teng, and Justin Chua were being considered for the top five. Alaska had invited all of them including other draft applicants to their workouts in order to evaluate them.
“We liked Nico for sure,” said Trillo. “He works hard. Has a nose for the ball and he can score. But he was a better four than a three. However, at the four, he was too small. Ryan could break down defenders and create his own shots.”
“Jeric we liked too but we had Cyrus (Baguio) and Dondon (Hontiveros) at the two guard with Leo Avenido on the bench. We didn’t want to sit him down and hurt his confidence.”
“We knew that (James) Forrester would go early,” added Trillo. “If we could get RR (Garcia) we would too but he’d be gone early.”
The draft assistant in charge of taking each team’s picks went over to the Alaska table to ask for their pick. Trillo wrote down Buenafe’s name and signed the paper. The die was cast.
A few minutes later, PBA Commissioner Chito Salud went back to the podium and announced, “For the number eighth overall pick. The Alaska Aces select… Ryan Buenafe.”
The selection was easily the most surprising pick of the first round.
The return of the swag
With the draft of Ryan Buenafe and Chris Exciminiano (with the 18th overall pick), the Alaska Aces brought a ‘street’ flavor to their team’s make up.
Trillo laughs at the term.
There’s Gabby, Calvin, Cyrus, RJ, and now Ryan and Chris. Is it a return to the Alaska teams of the 80s? Is this ‘The Bruise Brothers’ set of the new millennium?
“I assure you that it is not intentional,” laughed the head coach. “We define toughness as the energy, enthusiasm, and competitive aspects of the game. I know Calvin can be really tough at times though. As for Ryan, it wasn’t his flair or even antics, it was his competitiveness that we liked. He is one player who will make his teammates better.”
“Swagger is good as long as you can back it up. But it has to be kept at a minimum.”
“Now we’ll see what happens.”