collegiate basketball

5 young ballers to keep an eye on

Naveen Ganglani
5 young ballers to keep an eye on

UST rookie Kean Baclaan tows the Growling Tigers' late winning run at the 2022 PBA D-League Aspirants' Cup

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The recent collegiate preseason leagues enable teams to show off their next rising stars to the Philippines' rabid basketball fan base. Here are some who are up next.

MANILA, Philippines – With basketball action in the Philippines heating up over the last few months, hoops enthusiasts have been treated to watching young Filipino ballers blossom.

A handful of them and their unique talents have been on display as of late, notably at the SLAM Rising Stars High School all-star classic – which made its return after a two-year absence – FilOil preseason tournament, and varying offseason leagues.

Some of these guys only recently entered their respective collegiate athletic programs, while others are still developing in the high school stage, preparing for the bright lights of the NCAA, UAAP, or maybe even national team duty.

Here are five of those standouts to watch out for:

Jonnel Policarpio

The MVP of the Rising Stars classic turned many heads with his performances. At 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, the former Mapua high school product has the ideal size for a wing and undersized-big in today’s game. He’s also athletic and competitive. Add those qualities to his physical attributes and what you have is a blue-chip prospect.

He has good handles for a player his size, even when he has to begin his moves from the perimeter. He’s lethal in transition, a walking mismatch for guards smaller than him and bigs who don’t have the same lateral quickness.

He uses his length to his advantage by sneaking under outstretched arms to finish at the rim. He’s also unselfish and can contribute on defense when he sets his mind into it. He fights for offensive boards, pushes the pace in transition, and dishes to open teammates.

The future Green Archer has a year left before he enters the UAAP in Season 86. By then Derrick Pumaren will have a new weapon who can possibly immediately contribute two-way impact.

Lebron Nieto

If there is anyone who rekindles memories of a young Juan Gomez de Liaño, it’s Lebron Nieto.

The younger brother of Ateneo Blue Eagles and UAAP champions Mike and Matt Nieto is starting to build up his own reputation as a talented scorer as a guard. 

Although he doesn’t have Gomez de Liaño’s athletic prowess, Lebron has the same lefty quick trigger that stays fundamentally sound despite the quality of shot attempt, which is usually determined by the shooting spot on the floor or outstretched arms by defenders attempting to impede the shooter’s view. 

He glides more than runs on the court, with eyes up looking for a space to pull up or penetrate as defenders guess what he does next. He makes the game play to his pace, which is essential for a perimeter player who’s best with the ball in his hands. Some added playmaking for teammates could do him wonders.

Nieto has a season left before collegiate possibilities, but until then, he’ll continue to develop with the Blue Eaglets and Gilas Youth program.

Francis Lopez

He needs no introduction at this point. Francis Lopez is an athletic standout with the raw tools that would interest even scouts from Asian pro leagues. He’s already training with the national team. Any local squad – college or pro – would be happy to have him, although his potential opens the doors for more opportunities. 

His jump shot needs work. A source told Rappler that coaches and scouts in his ear urge him to consistently show a more competitive side. It’s not always apparent, but when he turns on that switch, he can impact the game in the blink of an eye.

He defends the rim, attacks offensive rebounds, can bring the ball down the floor, and throw down momentum-shifting dunks. He’s a walking freight train, the kind that must be fouled to prevent from getting at the rim. If he can hit free throws constantly, the easy points will come often.

The sky is the limit for Francis Lopez. 

Kean Baclaan

UST got a good one.

The former De La Salle Zobel standout has earned the adoration of hoop junkies both in person and online with his stellar play of late.

He can score at the rim, hit pull-ups, get to the foul line, or knock in long-range bombs. He’s talented in pick-and-roll for a college rookie, especially with his ability to make weakside passes when defenders pack the paint or halt his driving lanes.

He’s a menace in transition with sneaky athleticism. He can score in bursts and use the gravity he pulls to create for teammates. He’s crafty with the glass, which allows him to score even when maneuvering against multiple defenders. 

He recently dropped a 35-point bomb in the PBA D-League against St. Clare and had a near triple-double against San Beda in Filoil. 

Soon enough, everybody will know who Kean Baclaan is.

Aldous Torculas

UP will need someone to eventually take over Zavier Lucero’s role after he plays this season, and although he has ways to go before duplicating the impact of a UAAP Mythical 5 selectee, there’s a path for UPIS product Aldous Torculas to become a prominent Fighting Maroon and do just that. 

Like Policarpio, Torculas has good ball-handling for a 6-foot-4 player who can play either power or small forward. At the SLAM Rising Stars games, he showed a good knack for finding baseline cutters once he drew multiple defenders. The jumpshot could use some work, but he has good finishing skills at the rim, whether in half-court or transition.

He’s a competitive defender who has the mix of size and athleticism that will make scoring difficult for smaller guards. He has the athleticism to bother attempts by bigs with a size advantage on him. Where he has to work on is his fouling – he needs to be quicker in defensive positioning and not turn too sideways as frequently when rotating. 

He is good for one or two plays a game that can only be done with sheer athleticism, like flying over every other player and throwing down a put-back dunk, or chasing down an opponent with a few steps on him during a fast break.  

There are some areas to work on, but there’s way more things to like right now about Torculas. –

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