MANILA, January 14, 2004  (STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson - My ears were wide open as I tried to listen to courtside comments from scouts, self-styled experts and fans during the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) rookie camp at the Quezon Memorial Circle last Sunday.

Someone said at least six players are in contention to be the first overall pick in Friday’s draft. He’s probably right particularly if Shell decides to trade its first choice. The selection would then be wide open, depending on what the trading team plans to fill in its roster. Another mentioned the pool is so deep that there will be more than enough big fish to hook in the second round.

You wonder when the first pass will come on Friday. If it comes after 33 picks, that would confirm the draft pool to be the deepest in three years.

In 2001, the first pass came on the 33rd pick in the fourth round with Barangay Ginebra taking leave after choosing Mark Caguioa in the first round, Marlon Basco in the second and Marlon Piodo in the third.

In 2002, the first pass came on the 15th pick in the second round with Alaska waving off after choosing Migs Noble in the first round. Last year,the first pass came on the 28th pick in the third round as San Miguel Beer opted out after picking Marlon Legaspi in the first round and Arnold Calo in the second.

Camp director Norman Black said his main goal was to give the draft hopefuls the chance to display their skills for PBA coaches to get a better idea of the talent available. "Most fans like to see scrimmages," noted Black. "But from a coaching point of view, I wanted to test the rookies’ skills and find out their reaction to basketball situations. That’s why we programmed all those drills."

Black’s curriculum included shooting, jumping, sprinting and fastbreak drills. He split the 46 applicants who showed up for the camp into three basic groups–point guards, shooting guards/small forwards and power forwards/centers.

Black said he ran out of time to conduct the 1-on-1 drills which would’ve exposed the players’ offensive and defensive skills more clearly. He noted the limited space was a handicap. "The court wasn’t regulation size so we were cramped on the floor, doing simultaneous drills," he continued.

Black singled out Jean Marc Pingris and Nelbert Omolon as two of the most impressive performers in the five six-minute scrimmages that climaxed the three-hour afternoon showcase. Omolon, a 6-4 power forward, was dominant in the paint. Black liked Omolon’s athleticism, strong body and jumping ability.

"I think the stock of some rookies got a boost and some didn’t," he added. "Last year, I was told there were about six players who were heckled. This year, there was only one."

Black said Ranidel de Ocampo displayed "great" shooting form–"he’s got the potential to be a deadly three-point shooter." Shades of Dirk Nowitzki? The tallest rookie 6-7 Joachim Thoss also showed fine form, observed Black, although the consensus from courtside was he’s at best, a project. At point guard, Black said the revelations included Denver Lopez, Kim Valenzuela and Lou Gatumbato.

In the vertical leap tests, Pingris and Omolon were the topnotchers with a jump of 12 feet. Willy Wilson was No. 1 in the benchpress, pumping 41 repetitions. A discovery was 6-3 Nurjan Alfad who had 36 reps. In contrast, highly-touted big men Ervin Sotto and de Ocampo managed only about 20 reps, indicating a need for more upper body work.

On hard-working Nino Gelig who plays like a more physical Cyrus Baguio, Black said, ‘he may not be picked early but I think he’ll get picked anyway and he’ll stick–there should be room in a team for a player like him."

Black said several players delivered reassuring performances–like Rich Alvarez and James Yap who did just enough to convince the scouts they’re undoubtedly for real. Others like Wesley Gonzalez, Paul Artadi and Gary David did the same.

Unexpectedly playing like they belong to the pros were Carlo Sharma, Arnold Booker, Francis Mercado and Manny Ramos.

Why didn’t de Ocampo stand out?

A PBA observer said the 6-5 center has nothing more to prove. "He’ll be a first round pick for sure," noted the observer. "How he performed in the camp was inconsequential. You don’t ignore someone like de Ocampo."

Did de Ocampo seem to hold back because he’s not excited about being the first overall pick? Could it mean he’s not keen on playing for Shell? Would de Ocampo rather play for a team that has immediate championship potential?

Rookies are being invited to attend practices of various teams for coaches to take a closer look at their skills before Friday’s draft at the Glorietta in Makati.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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