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In Your Face!

What A Difference A Year or Two (or Three) Makes, Part 2

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(Continued from the previous)

"May mga cases kasi talaga na ang galing-galing nung high school player pero it turns out he's just older than the kids he plays against, at nabibisto din naman siya pagdating pa lang niya ng Seniors," Mr Libog exclaimed.

I then recalled that a coach from a well-known high school basketball program actually admitted to me something that has long been making the rounds in local high school basketball: Yes, he admitted, when a recruit comes to their program, and that recruit is either just the right age or a little younger for his curriculum year, they make him repeat a curriculum year and max out his age eligibility for junior division play.

He went on to explain that this wasn't done willy-nilly, that there were practical reasons for doing so: First, their program wanted to maximize the recruit's available playing years, especially if he is a transfer who has to sit out a year to establish residency anyway. Let's say a recruit already finished Grade 8 in his previous school, and he was only say 13 years old, or a little young for a Grade 8 student. When he goes to their program, they talk the recruit into repeating Grade 8, and make that repeat year his residency year. That way they will still have the recruit for four playing years, from Grade 9 to Grade 12. By the time he is in his last year of junior ball he will already be 18, in this given case. There were even times they made recruits repeat two years if they were really young.

Second, they recognized early on that a player who is older than average in junior ball can more easily take on younger players, even if those younger players are objectively more athletic and more talented than he is. Forget about the difference between a 17-year old and an 18-year old; imagine instead the difference between a 15-year old and a 17-year old. Only in the rarest of cases can a younger player whip an older player at the high school level.

Third, there is of course that adjustment period needed for a player to get used to more organized, more regimented basketball, especially if he came from an unstructured or barely structured background, like say if he came from the countryside and there really wasn't a regular varsity tournament where he comes from. It'll take at least a year even for the most talented and smartest high school player to get used to a more rigorous system than the one he was used to.

The bottom line, the coach therefore emphasized, is that it makes sense to use older players in high school basketball, just so long as you do not break the rules. If the rules of your tournament allow you to play high school ball up to age 19, then the perfect team, as far as this coach goes, is one where all of the players are 19, or at least half of them are 19 and the other half are 17 to 18. Pit them even against a team of sky walking, slam dunking, running and gunning younger players, and he will put even money on his older team every time.

"Diyan na lumalabas nga 'yung big question: Kapag nakakaita ka ng player sa Juniors na obvious naman sa itsura pa lang na mas matanda kesa sa mga kalaban niya, at nilalamon niya mga kalaban niya, hindi ba dapat lang naman ganun ang mangyari? So maybe what we are looking at is not an elite player who will be a sure PBA star in the future. Maybe what we are really looking at is nothing more than an older kid beating the shit out of younger kids, in a manner of speaking of course," expounded Mr Libog.

"Bigyan kita ng example. You remember when we went to watch Rey Nambatac mga six or seven years ago sa Buddha Care? Sino 'yung nakaagaw sa pansin natin? Kilala mo 'yon," he inquired.

It took me a few seconds. "Si (Koko) Pingoy?" I asked-answered.

"Correct. Si Nambatac ang pinuntahan natin, pero nakaagaw ng pansin natin si Pingoy. Guess who's older sa kanilang dalawa?" he asked.

"Si Pingoy?" I asked-answered again.

"Si Nambatac, by about a year. Pareho silang born 1994, pero Nambatac was January, Pingoy was December, pero parehong 1994," he said.

"So magkaedad lang pala sila technically speaking, mas matanda pa nga si Rey," I said.

"Correct. Coincidence kaya na silang dalawa 'yung pinakamagaling sa respective teams nila at that time? At that time they were both around 18, or sa case ni Pingoy pushing 18 na din siya," he said.

"So nung nag-champion ang Letran under Ayo, legit 21 na si Rey. Nung time naman na nag-champion sa Fr Martin ang Team B ng Ateneo, 'yung first championship nila dun sa Trinity, turning 20 na din si Pingoy, and take note may mga imports siya that time," he added.

I pointed out that Joma Adornado was on that title team too, as was Mikey Cabahug and a then under-residency Ponso Gotladera.

"Yes they were. And how old were all of those guys at that time?" he asked with that mischievous grin. Yeah, he had me on that one.

"This is what I keep pointing out to you when we look at high school players, why their age is important to me, because I need to know if that kid is really good or just an older kid having his way with younger kids. Kahit may edad 'yan, basta makita natin na mabilis, may handles, may pull-up jumper, may legit separation move, ok lang, malaki pagasa nun na maging future legit PBA player, hindi lang fringe player," he explained.

"That's why when I know a kid is old for high school I automatically fall back on his level of athleticism and his skill set, because an older kid can easily get a layup against a younger kid, but can he do that with the same ease against players his age or older when he's in college? Diyan medyo tricky eh," he added.

"Look at Harvey (Pagsanjan), legit age for his year in school, 17 going on 18 siya na incoming Grade 12, so tama lang. Even then kita mo naman ang athletic ability niya at skill set niya, kaya nga niya itulak sa overtime and Chiang Kai Shek na loaded team with older players, ganun ang real talent na hinahanap ko, hindi 'yung gawa ng edad," he said.

"Nung rookie year ni Enrico Villanueva sa Ateneo I'm sure may mga dismayadong Ateneo fans nung nakitang hirap siya kay (Don) Allado at that time. Hello, eh baka at most 18 going 19 pa lang si Enrico as a legit freshman, Allado at that time baka 22 na, so its Enrico fresh out of high school versus Fil-Am veteran Allado, unfair din eh, it isn't apples to apples," he went on.

By the time we were having dessert he had moved on to a new topic: his cousin's wedding, and with that our discussion on the confluence of age, talent, and real stars faded.

When I look on now at the Serrano case I still would like to think that at the very least Serrano is still the right age for UAAP Juniors play. I certainly do not think Serrano is 20, but he might indeed be a legit 19 already, making him still eligible to play age-wise, but again raising that question of how good is he, really?

I guess we'll just have to see how the UAAP proceeds with this matter.
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