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WORDS: Jasmine W. Payo
PHOTOGRAPHY: Ben Nollora

He's the promising big man every team coveted in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). So much so that Sta. Lucia decided to shed off its homegrown image just to snag Kelly Williams, the versatile cager from Detroit, Michigan.

With the acquisition of Williams as the top overall draft pick, the Realtors bolstered their aging local lineup bannered by Kenneth Duremdes, Marlou Aquino and Dennis Espino.

"Whatever the system, whatever the coach wants me to do, I will just do my best. This is a great opportunity for me to show the league what I can really do," said Williams after the 2006 PBA Rookie Draft last Aug. 20 at Market! Market! in Taguig.

Although Williams claims he has yet to impress, pro coaches already fancied the 6-foot-5 standout for his consistent double-double performances with Magnolia Ice Cream in the Philippine Basketball League (PBL) and the national squad.

"He can play almost all positions. He's very athletic and very coachable," said Sta. Lucia coach Alfrancis Chua.

Indeed, the lure of the skilled offensive player and solid rebounder was too much to pass up for the Realtors.

A product of Oakland University, a Division I school in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA,) the 24-year-old Williams caught the eye of RP team coach Chot Reyes last year.

"I'm excited to be in the league," said Williams, whose mother Andrea Pasco Williams hails from Cebu. "I just hope to bring the best I can. I'll give all I have in offense and defense. I can‚t wait to learn the team's system and type of play."

The King Tamaraw arrives
The Air 21 Express chose Arwind Santos, the collegiate superstar from Far Eastern University Tamaraws, as the second overall draft pick. Santos, a two-time Most Valuable Player in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), clearly doesn‚t mind coming next to Williams even if earlier reports tabbed him as the possible No. 1 pick

"I'm very happy. I wasn't thinking if I'll be picked No. 1. I just want to give the best that I can, just like in the amateurs," said the Pampanga-born Santos.

The lanky yet athletic Santos shored up the Express‚ frontline headed by the slam-dunking KG Canaleta and Ranidel de Ocampo.

"I think I'm ripe enough for the PBA and I will do whatever it takes to help my team win," added Santos.

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Archer a surprise target
The selection of Joseph Yeo at No.3, however, turned out to be the biggest surprise of the draft.

The Coca-Cola Tigers netted the La Salle Green Archers‚ hotshot guard, who nearly got himself banned from the pro league.

In an Ateneo-La Salle Dream Game sanctioned by the PBA last December, Yeo clotheslined Red Bull star Enrico Villanueva from rival Ateneo.

"Everything's okay already. I've been concentrating to play in the PBA. After the incident, I apologized to Enrico and commissioner," said Yeo.

Still, the league didn't let him off the hook quite easily. In lieu of suspension, Yeo will be serving a three-month mandatory work in the PBA's community service programs.

Yet The Tigers believe that the temperamental Yeo, whose acrobatic shots and daredevil drives have become signature moves, is worth a gamble.

"I'll continue to work hard," said Yeo. "Everyone who plays basketball here dreams of making it to the PBA."

Blue Eagle lands at fourth
Picking fourth, the San Miguel Beermen expectedly went for top amateur point guard LA Tenorio.

"The past months, San Miguel already invited me to practice with them. I've always wanted to play for them because of Olsen Racela. I like his leadership and the way he handles the team," said Tenorio.

A clever playmaker, Tenorio played crucial roles during the championship runs of the Ateneo Blue Eagles in the 2002 UAAP season and Harbour Centre in the 2006 PBL Unity Cup.

"I wasn't thinking whether I'll be in the top five in the draft. I just wanted to join a good team and to be able to fit in their system," he added.

Young Dolphin enters the pros
After selecting a UAAP standout, San Miguel decided to pick NCAA stalwart Gabby Espinas at fifth.

The explosive forward made history by winning the NCAA Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year in 2004.

But for the next few months, it will be a balancing act for the cager who single-handedly turned the Philippine Christian University Dolphins from a doormat team to a champion squad.

"I have the go-signal from (PCU) coach Joel (Dualan) to practice for my PBA team," said Espinas, who will be playing out his final year in PCU.

Rounding up the first round
Sta. Lucia continued to bolster its frontline by opting to pick FEU slotman Mark Isip as sixth overall.

Isip may not be as celebrated as former teammate Arwind Santos, but the brawny 6-foot-4 forward also provided steady plays in FEU‚s UAAP title run in 2003 and 2005.

Also bringing his championship experience to the fore, Aaron Aban got drafted by the Alaska Aces at No. 7.

Far from flashy, the Letran swingman showed that a player can still get noticed through sheer hard work.
It also wasn't a bad night for the members of the 2005 NCAA champion team. Not long after Aban was picked, his two Letran teammates were also selected.

Talk ‘N Text Phone Pals acquired behemoth 6-foot-8 center Mark Andaya as the eighth overall choice.

Wily point guard Boyet Bautista went to the Purefoods Chunkee Giants at No. 9, making him the smallest draftee at 5-foot-6.

Rookie team Welcoat Paints Dragons capped the first round by choosing Abby Santos, the standout forward from the University of the Philippines Maroons.

Reunited with his UP teammate, 6-foot-1 guard Jireh Ibañes also joined Welcoat Paints as the first pick in the second round.

Diligent FEU swingman RJ Rizada was next, going to the Coca-Cola Tigers as the twelfth choice.

Holding a bunch of second-round lottery picks, Coca-Cola also plucked PSBA mainstay MC Caceres (No. 14), unheralded Chris Pacana of St. Francis of Assisi (No. 15), Mike Gavino, the La Salle big man who crossed over to UP (No. 16) and former Letran star Ronjay Enrile (No. 17).

Sta. Lucia exercised its13th pick on Mark Magsumbol of St. Benilde, while Alaska opted for Christian Luanzon of the University of Sto. Tomas Tigers at No. 18.

Overlooked due to a recent knee injury, Magnum Membrere joined former Ateneo teammates Enrico Villanueva, Rich Alvarez, Larry Fonacier and Paolo Bugia as Red Bull's only pick at No. 19. Just like last year, the Barakos gambled on the ailing Fonacier, who went on to bag the Rookie of the Year plum.

Ollan Omiping was also reunited with former UE teammates James Yap and Paul Artadi when Purefoods selected the 6-foot guard to wrap up the annual draft.

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