The PBA Draft was institutionalized in 1985 as then-Commissioner Mariano Yenko and his deputy, Tommy Manotoc, envisioned a more balanced league instead of having two or three teams constantly contending for the championship.
Prior to this, PBA teams secured amateur players by signing them directly—whether these freshmen came from their farm teams in the MICAA or PABL, or through direct offer sheets.
The rules of the PBA Draft were patterned after the National Basketball Association's (NBA)—the poorest performing teams of the previous season would get first crack from a pool of rookies who signified their intent of joining the PBA.
For the next 32 years, we have seen an abundance of awesome talents blossoming into superstars. With the 33rd edition of the PBA Draft set on October 29, FHM lists down the Top 10 No. 1 Draft Picks of All Time, made based on overall career performance, impact to his team and the league, and major accomplishments.
First, the honorable mentions:
Jay Washington (2005)
Greg Slaughter (2013)
Joe Devance (2007)
Japeth Aguilar (2009)
Gabe Norwood (2008)
10. Jun Limpot (1993), Sta. Lucia Realtors
Dubbed “The Main Man” or “The Big Deal,” Limpot was already a much-coveted player dating back from his high school days at the University of Manila. Limpot wasn’t as decorated as the players in this list, but his impact upon entering the PBA was unquantifiable. His presence alone made Sta. Lucia a darkhorse. Known for his smooth moves and precise perimeter shooting, Limpot was once upon a time the highest-paid player of the league courtesy of a multi-million offer sheet from Pepsi Mega that was eventually matched by the Realtors.
9. Dennis Espino (1995), Sta. Lucia Realtors
It took some time for Dennis “The Menace” Espino to get his game going in the PBA, but when he did, he became one of the more premier centers in the league. One of the smartest interior pillars to ever lace a pair, Espino was a phenomenal post player who used both finesse and physicality to get his way. It was when Limpot was traded for Marlou Aquino that Espino blossomed, battling the bigger Fil-Foreigners, earning for himself Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2006 as well as leading the Realtors to two championships in 2001 and 2007.
8. Marlou Aquino (1996), Ginebra San Miguel
Marlou Aquino first joined the draft in 1994, but because of academic deficiencies, he had to move his application two seasons later. Even that early, Aquino was already projected to be the No. 1 overall pick because of his sustained dominance in the PBL. And when Ginebra finally acquired his services, the team’s fortunes turned around from being league doormat to championship contender. In his rookie year alone, Aquino was a Mythical First Team member, the Rookie of the Year, the Best Player of the Governors’ Cup, and the Defensive Player of the Year. He powered Gordon’s Gin to the 1997 Commissioner’s Cup title, dominating Alaska import Kevin Holland in the Finals, to win Finals MVP honors. Aquino later won two more titles for Sta. Lucia.
7. Willie Miller (2001), Batang Red Bull Thunder
Two-time PBA MVP should easily be in the Top 4 of this list, except that he won the league's top individual honor when the 12 best players of the league suited up for the national team. There’s no denying his place in this list, though. No doubt one of the most dominant guards in PBA history, the Thriller led two of his teams, Red Bull and Alaska, to the championship, winning the Finals MVP on both occasions.
6. Kelly Williams (2006), Sta. Lucia Realtors
Kelly Williams’ game has surged in the past couple of months, surprising everyone when he earned Second Mythical Team honors this season. A rare blood disorder almost sidelined Williams permanently, but with his resolve and drive, he managed to come back. The Machine Gun was primarily responsible for giving Sta. Lucia its second franchise championship in the 2008 Philippine Cup, the same year he won MVP honors. Williams remains relevant today as he has been constantly mentioned as a possible inclusion in the Gilas roster at the age of 35.
5. Vergel Meneses (1992), Presto Tivoli
Only a few players have electrified PBA fans because of their ability to soar in the air, defy gravity, and turn an acrobatic shot into a work of art. It’s no secret that when Meneses came into limelight as a lanky 18-year-old collegiate player from Jose Rizal College who defeated the likes of Alvin Patrimonio, Benjie Paras, Jojo Lastimosa and Nelson Asaytono in many a past PABL Slam Dunk tilts, the Aerial Voyager was already a much sought after player. In his rookie year with Presto, he played for an all-star lineup that struggled the entire season. It was when he was traded to Swift that he blossomed into a superstar, helping the franchise win three championships and running away with MVP honors in 1995.
4. Allan Caidic (1987), Great Taste Coffeemakers
Fans were suprised when Allan Caidic didn’t join his NCC teammates who were elevated to the PBA directly in the third Conference of the 1986 season for the comebacking San Miguel Beer team. Caidic, who had obligations in the amateur ranks, joined the succeeding season and Great Taste Coach Baby Dalupan made sure he would snag the Triggerman on draft day, pulling off a couple of trades in the process. Caidic proved his worth almost immediately, cracking the Mythical First team in his rookie year, becoming one of the most feared deadshot in Asia. Caidic was named MVP in 1990, after carrying Presto to the All Filipino title. He went on to play up to the end of the century, even becoming a member of the PBA-backed national team in 1990, 1994, and 1998 as its resident gunner. China and South Korea scouts would always say, “Watch out for #8” in reference to Caidic’s offensive prowess.
3. Danny Ildefonso (1998), Formula Shell Zoom Masters (traded on draft day to San Miguel)
Another product of a trade deal that paved the way for Danny Ildefonso to play for a team that didn’t draft him, the pride of Urdaneta had two options back in 1998—play for the Pangasinan Waves in the MBA or join the PBA Draft. The late Coach Ron Jacobs convinced him to play for the Beermen, with SMB finding a way to trade Noy Castillo, the second pick, for DI plus cash considerations. DI quickly endeared himself to PBA fans with his “raise the roof” antic, but it was his steady presence on both ends of the floor that made the Beermen dominant, winning five of six conferences from 1999 to 2001. The Demolition Man earned back-to-back MVP awards in 2000 and 2001 as a result of his outstanding performance.
2. Benjie Paras (1989), Formula Shell Zoom Masters
If this article was written two years ago, Benjie Paras would easily have topped this list. There has been no rookie as dominant as The Tower of Power, winning ROY and MVP honors in his first year, a feat that remains unmatched to this day. Paras was so dominant that he made Shell a championship contender for several seasons, particularly in the late ’80s to the early ’90s. But just when everyone thought Paras’ ROY-MVP year was hard to top, rookies Danny Seigle and Eric Menk delivered mind-blowing rookie performances that merited MVP consideration in 1999. Unfortunately for them, 10-year vet Paras also had a resurgent season, winning his second MVP by season's end.
1. June Mar Fajardo (2012), San Miguel Beermen
This one's practically a giveaway after Junemar Fajardo won his fourth MVP plum last week. What's amazing is, the only player to win four consecutive MVP awards is far from done—The Kraken will only turn 28 next month. He’s become a total dominant force, having won five PBA championships in the last eight conferences. Fajardo has practically changed the approach of coaches entering the game, figuring out ways to contain the 6’10 Cebuano. Fajardo is the reason the league has remained to be a big man’s game, and will continue to be that way in the coming years.