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PBA: Cadets holding own against pros

When the PBA and the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas sealed a landmark agreement by allowing Gilas Pilipinas cadet players to join the pro league by going through the Rookie Draft, the idea was for the national team members to gain experience.

So far, the cadets are performing far above than expected.

Leading the cadets is Mac Belo of Blackwater. The 6-foot-3 forward ranks among the top players halfway through the conference in the Best Player of the Conference (BPC) race.

Belo is averaging 17 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.7 steals and has turned Blackwater into a playoff contender with its current 4-3 record tied with Phoenix Fuel in the standings.

Also doing well for their respective teams are Jio Jalalon of Star, Mike Tolomia of Rain or Shine, Carl Bryan Cruz of Alaska, Von Pessumal of GlobalPort, Ed Daquioag of Meralco, Roger Pogoy of TNT Ka Tropa and Fil-American Matthew Wright of Phoenix Fuel.

Other members of the Cadet national team pool are Kevin Ferrer of Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, Russel Escoto of Mahindra, Alfonzo Gotladera of NLEX and Arnold Van Opstal of defending champion San Miguel Beer.

The way they are playing comes as a surprise to NLEX mentor Yeng Guiao, who served as national team coach when the Philippines competed in the 2009 FIBA Asia Championship in Tianjin, China.

“I didn’t expect them to create as quick an impact as a group. I think it’s a pleasant surprise for me,” said Guiao yesterday. “A lot of these guys don’t look and play like rookies the way they are performing.

“The selection process, or the decision-makers who selected the players, they are proving that they’ve made the right decision in picking these players to be part of the Gilas Cadet,” added Guiao.

According to Guiao, the performances of these players are not just helping their respective teams’ campaign this conference but would benefit the national team in the future.

“It’s good for the future of national teal pool, it’s a deep pool. But the good thing about this setup is it’s not only good for national team but also for the PBA because these guys add quality to the league,” said Guiao.

“It’s an assurance that the PBA’s future is bright. In five to six years, these guys will be on their peak.”