by Tito S. Talao
Manila, Philippines – After suffering in silence these past few days as harsh winds buffeted it from all sides, Barako Bull has emerged from its shelter to take swirling draft issues by the horns.
Raffy Casyao, Barako Bull team manager, released a one-page, 16-paragraph statement Friday night to explain the root cause of all the negative publicity they had been getting lately: trading away three first round picks during the Annual Rookie Draft a week ago.
Also, while going through the details of the statement in answering questions, Casyao touched lightly on the departure of Serbian consultant Rajko Toroman and explained why they let go of point guard revelation Eman Monfort.
“It was, plain and simple, team strategy,” said Casyao of the trades that gobbled up their first round picks. “We didn’t know it was going to be controversial.” A howl rose when Barako Bull relinquished the rights to its 4th pick in the draft to Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, the 5th to Petron Blaze, and the 6th to Globalport for veteran players who got limited exposure with their ballclubs of origin.
Telecommunications tycoon Manny V. Pangilinan, owner of the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters and the Meralco Bolts, tweeted his “wonder,” and the governors of Rain or Shine, Alaska and Meralco indicated they were going to raise the matter in a recent board meeting called to discuss the Nov. 17 season inaugural ceremony.
Even PBA commissioner Chito Salud was dragged into the storm, with contrary comments pouring through the social media, some vitriolic, after he said that he “perceived no blatantly lopsided trades in the draft.”
Casyao was adamant the trades were made for no other reason than extreme necessity.
“Our team right now needs instant results, immediate impact. We don’t have the luxury of time for us to nurture these rookies until they mature; yung magpapahinog pa,” said Casyao.
“Nasa bottom three kami sa liga so we have to make a move fast. So doon na kami sa tried-and-tested.”
Without players attractive enough to dangle, Casyao said, first round picks are the only “concessions” they have that appeal to other teams.
“We’ve offered some of our players to all the teams as early as last year. Ayaw naman nila ke Dorian [Pena] o ke [Mick] Pennisi,” he said. “Laging first round sa draft ang puntirya nila sa’min. And since we need to improve, build up our team, and we only have our drafts, that’s where we went to get quality players, yung mga subok na.”
Casyao brushed aside suggestions they gave up valuable draft picks for over-the-hill players.
“Who’s to say [Rico] Maeirhofer or Denok [Miranda] or [Mark] Isip or [Willy] Wilson are not talented players who will have an impact in our team?” he said. “Magagaling ang mga yan; rookie of the year nga si Rico, di ba?. Di lang nga sila nabibigyan ng playing time dahil star-studded ang mga teams nila.”
The risk of coming up with eventual duds in the draft was also factored into their decision, Casyao said.
“I’m not saying na hindi magagaling ang batch na ‘to,” he said. “But then again, who can really say? The same goes true for [Greg] Slaughter if he will perform as a No. 1 pick. Marami rin namang mga rookies na naging journeymen. So we had to be very careful.”
Having two more picks in the second round, Casyao said, allowed them to compensate for whatever they lost in the first, using these to grab Jeric Fortuna (14th) and Carlo Lastimosa (20th).
“Kung umabot pa nga sa’min si Jeric Teng (drafted 12th by Rain or Shine), kukunin talaga namin with the 14th pick e,” he said, admitting nonetheless that only time will tell if they made the right decision.
“Hard to say kung tama ang ginawa namin; that remains to be seen,” he said. “But at least now, we have players who can immediately help us.”
“Management’s decision” to terminate Toroman’s contract ahead of its February expiration should neither be an issue, Casyao said.
“We were honest with him that we won’t be renewing his contract,” said Casyao. “Kung baga, we gave him time or leeway to contemplate on his career. Instead of 30 or 60 days, we gave him a 90-day notice.”
Pressed for a specific reason why, Casyao said, “Coach Rajko is a good person. Natulungan din niya kami and so I don’t want to spoil his good coaching resume. Maraming factors, but lets just keep them to ourselves.”
Of Monfort, who Barako Bull sent to Barangay Ginebra for Robert Labagala, Casyao said the former Ateneo player’s spate of hand injuries, and the arrival of Miranda and Fortuna, are what prompted them to press the button.
“We were told by doctors na medyo brittle na ang mga daliri ni Monfort,” said Casyao.
Former Mapua Cardinal Bong Ramos, more of a subaltern than a head coach during Toroman’s tenure at Barako Bull, will call the shots as a full-pledged mentor, bared Casyao, with Koy Banal and Jigs Mendoza as assistants.
Asked what a realistic finish would be for the Energy Cola in the Philippine Cup, Ramos said, “the quarterfinal playoffs. Then we can move from there.”
In the Barako Bull roster are Jonas Villanueva, Denok Miranda, Jeric Fortuna, Ronjay Buenafe, Willie Miller, Mark Macapagal, Carlo Lastimosa, JC Intal, Keith Jensen, Willy Wilson, Gilbert Bulaoan, Dorian Pena, Dave Marcelo, Mick Pennisi, Mark Isip and Rico Maeirhofer.