Juami Tiongson made the first jump, joining the NLEX Road Warriors after a short but solid campaign with AMA Online Education. Mark Cruz, who after emerging as one of the top scorers of the Tanduay Rhum Masters, was picked up by the Blackwater Elite. Racal Tile Masters’ Jackson Corpuz meanwhile fulfilled a life-long dream of playing in the pro league when he joined the Mahindra Floodbuster following his standout showing in their finals defeat to Cignal-San Beda.
Another player with vast D-League experience also made it to the next level, albeit in a brief stint. The Phoenix Fuel Masters inked guard Jeff Viernes, but soon asked for his release after he was caught playing in a “ligang labas” while still under a PBA contract. Regardless, Viernes should get another shot.
As in the past, the D-League has served as a final journey for amateur and Fil-foreign standouts to join the draft, a requirement for aspiring pros. The likes of Calvin Abueva, Allein Maliksi, Cliff Hodge, Kevin Alas, and a list of others left imprints on the league before becoming pro stars.
The signings of Tiongson, Cruz, and Corpuz have prompted some to speculate the next call-up, while the Foundation Cup, which starts later this month, will be an avenue for future pros to validate their case for the draft.
The following are some of the amateurs who probably deserve the chance of making the big leap.
It took a long time before Teng made his D-League debut for AMA last conference. Showing why he was one of the UAAP’s best players by helping La Salle win two championships in 2013 and 2016, the son of former PBA cager Alvin Teng had a smashing debut with 42 points against Batangas last January, setting the tone for a run that allowed the Titans to make the playoffs for the first time since joining the league in 2014.
Teng is expected to continue his superb play, this time for the Flying V Thunder in the Foundation Cup. Already having the experience of playing in the more physical D-League should boost not only his confidence but also his draft stock.
Gaco earned a cult-following as the lovable benchwarmer of the Grand Slam-winning San Mig Super Coffee Mixers of Tim Cone in 2014. But many have forgotten how solid Gaco was during his short UAAP career with La Salle and as a bruiser for seven-time PBL champion Harbour Centre and 2010 ABL champion Philippine Patriots.
But after becoming a free agent, Gaco found himself back in the amateurs with Tanduay, thanks to a new rule that allows D-League teams to acquire ex-pros with an age of over 30-years-old (Gaco is 36). He produced 14.1 points and 7.4 rebounds in seven games for the Rhum Masters, who lost to Cignal in the semifinals. It would be interesting to see if the D-League stint would allow him to get one more pro opportunity before riding into the sunset.
Perkins was a bit player of La Salle’s 2016 UAAP title run but a major star of Cignal’s championship-winning squad in the Aspirants’ Cup. The versatile lefty averaged 14.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.7 assists and nearly bagged the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award, losing to teammate Robert Bolick.
His Aspirants’ Cup showing has certainly given him the much-needed momentum as he is expected to enter the draft. Perkins fits well for a team shopping for a big man who can also hit the outside shot.
The former playmaker of the 2009 NCAA champion San Sebastian Stags found himself playing a huge role in the D-League after forgetful seasons with Talk ‘N Text and NLEX in the pros. Reunited at Cignal with Boyet Fernandez, his coach when he had played for NLEX’s 2011 and 2014 Foundation Cup title-winning teams, Raymundo was the stabilizer of a Hawkeyes team composed mostly of San Beda players, even producing the shots that mattered in clutch situations. He averaged 10.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 3.4 assists as Cignal won the title.
It would be interesting to see if Raymundo can make a pro comeback and try to crack a major role off the bench for any PBA squad. But for now, the 27-year-old should be content in his current role at Cignal.
Some remember Herndon as the man who beat Willie Miller in the Red Bull King of the Rock one-on-one tournament several years ago. But the Fil-American also showcased his ability to play in the commercial league by posting 17.1 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 3.3 assists for Victoria Sports-MLQU in the Aspirants’ Cup.
Herndon is required to play two conferences to be eligible for the draft. Although he was forced to play the lead role for a team that finished near the bottom of the standings, it may give PBA teams the attention he wants, particularly with his ability to produce on offense.
Sedurifa was a virtual unknown in his role in CafeFrance’s stunning 2015 Foundation Cup championship that subsequently led to his selection in the PBA draft by the Meralco Bolts. A practice player for the Bolts, Sedurifa is keeping himself busy in the D-League, averaging 16 points per game for Batangas in the elims. He was later picked up by CafeFrance for the playoffs and recorded 10.5 points in the quarters and semis.
The former Centro Escolar University standout has shown that he could be a reliable offensive weapon in the D-League. He hopes that another big conference may entice Meralco, or even another PBA squad to offer him a roster spot.