MANILA, January 12, 2004  (STAR) THE GAME OF MY LIFE By Bill Velasco - It was a festive day at the 2004 PBA Rookie Camp at the Quezon Memorial Circle yesterday. All 49 draft applicants were eager to show off, but did admit to being bugged by some neophyte痴 nerves. Some of the blue-chip players did admit that they were already talking with some teams who could pick them, but none would reveal who they were negotiating with.

"I知 nervous, I知 scared, but I知 also excited at the same time," says former UAAP Most Valuable Player Rich Alvarez of Ateneo de Manila. "It痴 really hard. I知 more excited than anything. I don稚 know where I値l land. But I値l be happy with any team."

"Right now, somewhat pressured, a little nervous," echoes Warren Ybaez, who first came to prominence as an undersized spitfire in the MBA. "But my advantage over the other draftees will be my quickness.

Rhagnee Sinco has a different take. "Most of the players I知 going up against are offensive players," the veteran of UAAP champ Far Eastern University says. "I知 a role player, so I知 concentrating more on my defense; that will be my advantage over them."

With all the coaches, and many PBA stars in attendance, the rookies were naturally apprehensive. At the outset, camp director Norman Black put the players through their paces, urging them to be more aggressive, emphasizing fundamentals, and giving them free reign to show off a little.

"Of course, I知 nervous, because this is a different challenge for me," admits University of the East痴 starting point guard Paul Artadi. "The others are bigger, but I知 excited just about being picked. I think the number 1 thing I値l have to work on is my outside shooting. If I get that, I can keep up with other PBA players."

Dark horse big man Nelbert Omolon - who came to Welcoat by way of ICTSI and Philippine Christian University in the NCAA - may not be under the media scrutiny some of his more glamorous counterparts are, but then again, the pressure may be greater to merely land a roster spot.

"I知 too excited. Isn稚 this everybody痴 dream?" he asked. "That痴 the turning point in my life. I致e practiced with Purefoods and Ginebra before, so I have a little experience. I値l be counting on my intensity and quickness. Some of the pros are a little slower. And heart, too. We池e hungrier."

Some of the players who relished all the physical competition yesterday (not to mention the adoring cheers of their PBL and college fans), rated themselves in terms of readiness.

"I知 nervous and happy," reveals Marc Pingris, who, at 6-6 and explosive, has been competing against much older players even when he was with the Youth team. "I致e got an advantage over big men in speed, so I値l use that," he adds, noting that Ginebra and San Miguel Beer have expressed interest in him.

De La Salle痴 Willy Wilson also laughed nervously at the thought of finally turning pro. "You don稚 know whether you池e going to get picked up, and who痴 going to pick you. I know I can play in the PBA, but it痴 on the coach if he thinks I can play in the PBA. I don稚 think any other rookie can match up with me on defense. If it happens, it happens."

Ervin Sotto, one of seven Welcoat players moving up, may be the sleeper of the batch, and was uniquely calm. "I知 still focusing on the PBL," he says. "Whoever picks me in the draft, I値l be happy. I値l just play my game."

Gary David, a ripe 25 years old and the steal of this year痴 draft, says "I know the game of everybody, all the rookies, so that helps. I have to work on my dribbling and add a little to my shooting."

"I still haven稚 heard anything, so I知 starting to get worried," says the spectacular James Yap of University of the East, and a probable second pick. "I know I値l have to improve my defense... I値l believe everything when somebody finally picks me."

All in all, the Rookie Camp was a terrific preview, both of the PBA痴 and ABC 5痴 professionalism in handling the future of the Philippine痴 most treasured league.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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