PBA draft

Who Are the Players to Watch in the Season 49 PBA Draft?

This year’s PBA rookie draft may not be as large as last year’s, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in talent.

The application period for the Season 49 PBA Rookie Draft ended on July 4, and the final list of applicants was released by the league on Friday morning.

Exactly 70 aspirants made the list, a number significantly down from last year’s record-breaking 129 applicants. In fact, there were more players drafted last season (79) than there are applicants this season.

Still, that doesn’t mean this draft is devoid of talent. The 12 teams have plenty of blue-chippers to choose from through at least the first two rounds.

The Converge FiberXers own the top overall pick, and it’s widely believed they will use it on Justine Baltazar, the talented power forward from DLSU who most recently suited up for the Pampanga Lanterns in the MPBL.

All rookies who made the final list will report for the two-day Rookie Combine set July 10-11 at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig. The draft will be held on July 14 at the Glorietta Activity Center in Makati.

While Baltazar is locked in for the top overall slot, a host of other standouts loom large for the rest of the first round. Here are some of the most noteworthy.

RJ Abarrientos

Abarrientos played one season for the FEU Tamaraws in the UAAP, leading them to a Final Four appearance while averaging 13.8 points per game. During the pandemic, he also suited up for Gilas Pilipinas during the tenure of Tab Baldwin.

He decided to forego his remaining college eligibility to play in the Korean Basketball League, where he was named KBL Rookie of the Year playing for the Ulsan Hyundai Mobis Phoebus. Last season he transferred to the Shinshu Brave Warriors of the Japan B.League, becoming the first Filipino professional basketball player to suit up in both Korea and Japan. Like his uncle, the legendary Johnny, Abarrientos doesn’t have the height of other pro point guards, but he has proven he can perform at a top level.

Pedro Alfaro III

The son of a former PBA player, Alfaro is coming off a sterling performance in the San Beda Red Lions’ NCAA Season 99 title conquest, where he hit clutch baskets to help San Beda win its first seniors’ title in six years. On the international level, Alfaro was a member of the Batang Gilas team that won the gold medal in the 2016 SEABA U16 Championships.

He is currently playing for the Zamboanga Valientes in the Asian Tournament, and at 25, he has the maturity and experience to be a good option for teams in search of a backup two-way guard.

Kai Ballungay

A versatile 6’6” forward, Ballungay renounced his remaining eligibility with the Ateneo Blue Eagles to move up to the pro ranks. In his last UAAP season, he led the Blue Eagles in scoring with 11.6 points per game to go along with 8.0 rebounds. Prior to coming over to the Philippines, Ballungay played NCAA Division II basketball with the Stanislaus State Warriors. With his height, length, and ability to shoot from the outside, Ballungay is a good option for teams looking to shore up their wing depth.

Kai Ballungay brings versatility to the forward spot. (UAAP Media Bureau)
Sedrick Barefield

The second time’s a charm for the 26-year-old Barefield, who tried applying for the Season 47 PBA draft but ultimately couldn’t complete his requirements on time. In terms of international experience, the globe-trotting Barefield might be the most seasoned among all the applicants. He played Division 1 college basketball in the NCAA and even has NBA G-League experience. A 6’2” guard, Barefield has played in Lithuania, Guinea, and Taiwan and had a brief stint with the Bay Area Dragons last year. The team that drafts him will get a seasoned veteran who can contribute right away.

CJ Cansino

A former UAAP Rookie of the Year with UST and UAAP champion with UP, Cansino could be an effective shooting guard in the pros. In his final UAAP season, Cansino shot 37% from 3-point range while averaging 12.5 points per game for the runners-up Fighting Maroons. Prior to joining the PBA draft, he was lighting it up for the Iloilo United Royals in the MPBL to the tune of 16.7 points per game. Although he has had two knee surgeries, Cansino is still a viable option for teams in the first round that are looking to add some shooting.

Dave Ildefonso

A second-generation player, Ildefonso will look to join elder brother Shawn and become the second son of two-time MVP Danny to play in the PBA. Dave is a UAAP champion and Gilas Pilipinas veteran at both the youth and senior levels and was part of the first wave of Filipino players who joined the Korean Basketball League two years ago. He played two seasons for the Suwon KT Sonicboom, putting up modest averages of 5.14 and 4.42 points per game during that time span, but the experience will serve him well in the PBA.

Jerom Lastimosa

If there ever was a fan favorite in the UAAP, it’s got to be the six-foot Jerom Lastimosa, whose gutsy plays and bigtime shot-making earned him a cult following during his five-season run with the Adamson Falcons and even a slot on the Gilas Pilipinas team that won the gold medal in the 2023 Southeast Asian Games.

Lastimosa averaged 15.0 points per game for the Falcons in UAAP Season 85 but unfortunately played just two games in Season 86 due to a knee injury. But such was his impact that the school retired his jersey no. 7 late last year. Whichever team drafts him might have to wait a bit as he’s still recovering from knee surgery, but it will be worth the wait.

Evan Nelle

Nelle is that rare college player who won titles in both the NCAA and UAAP, having been part of the champion teams of the San Beda Red Lions in 2018 and DLSU Green Archers in 2023. He came into his own in NCAA Season 95 after taking over the point guard chores from the graduated Robert Bolick and continued to put up good numbers after transferring to Taft. He averaged 11.3 points and 6.9 assists in Season 86 while leading DLSU to the title. He also helped the Green Archers win a PBA D-League title last year.

Never lacking in confidence, Nelle isn’t afraid to take the big shots with the game on the line. He might need to put on a bit of muscle, though, to prepare himself for the PBA’s physicality.

D.J. Mitchell

Mitchell played college ball in the U.S., suiting up for four seasons for the NCAA Division III Hartford Hawks where he averaged 5.6 points per game before announcing his transfer to the DLSU Green Archers. Unfortunately, a back injury prevented the six-foot guard from ever playing in the UAAP. Instead, he made his Philippine debut in the MPBL, where he is currently averaging 9.0 points per game while shooting 40% from 3-point distance for the Manila SV Batang Sampaloc.

Other notable names on the PBA draft list include Ben Phillips, Jonnel Policarpio, Francis Escandor and Mark Nonoy from UAAP Season 86 champions De La Salle Green Archers, FEU hotshot Xyrus Torres, Ateneo point guard Jaren Brown, JRU Heavy Bombers team captain Ry Dela Rosa, Mapua Cardinals shooter Paolo Hernandez and EAC Generals ace JP Maguillano.

Banner Images from UAAP Media Bureau.  

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