By Ged Austria

With the hectic High School basketball season now over, it’s only right we take a step back to credit the best of the best. With that, here are some of the notable players from the recently concluded 2019 SLAM Rising Stars Classic:

Joel Cagulangan

We would have to start with this game’s MVP, right? And it’s only fitting that it’s Joel Cagulangan who isn’t new to being called the MVP since he was a Finals MVP 2 years ago and a Season MVP in the NCAA for La Salle Greenhills.

Cagulangan, again, lived up to his reputation as an all-around guard. He shot well from outside, made baskets in the lane, and facilitated for the team at an efficient rate. He had 10 points (4/7 FGs), 4 rebounds, 5 assists in just 16 minutes. But when it mattered most, he hit back to back clutch three-pointers to sink the dagger on Team HYPE.  

It’s already hard to stay efficient in this type of game where there are tendencies to get flashy and fancy. In this game, Cagulangan proved that he can be entertaining yet steady at the same time.  To watch out for him in the college ranks is an absolute must.

Forthsky Padrigao

Forthsky is the type of player with undeniable talent, but also has a lot of critics with how he plays. We’ve heard various versions of it through the years, but at the very core, Padrigao is criticized for being too flashy and fancy. He has a tendency of trying to do too much that it results in turnovers.

This time around, Forthsky was a bright spot for Team HYPE. While he had 16 points, critics will be quick to point to him having “just” one assist. However, there are things that can only be seen by the eye and not statistics.

The kid is talented and a pick and roll maestro. The signature flash and fanciness remained, but there was no denying his skill. He showed that he was adept at scoring from inside and outside, and he had a number of pinpoint passes, even though some of his teammates failed to convert.

With two more playing years left in High School, we can only expect Forthsky to get better in everything he does. More efficient decisions, better shot selection, flashiness but within the system, and also, overall maturity.

Joem Sabandal

Joem is the typical quick combo guard who could give you trouble on both ends of the floor. But he was never this good to start his career. From being a bench player during Season 79, he carried most of the load for them in his last ride as a senior, good enough to bring the Baby Falcons back to the Final Four. In the process, he got a spot in the Mythical Five Six to strengthen his case as an elite High School player.

Despite the accolades, he showed he had a chip on his shoulder with the way he played in the game. Save for Forthsky, he was the only other bright spot for Team HYPE. From the get-go, he looked like he wanted to prove that he belonged with how he aggressively he looked for his shots. He had the most attempts in the game with 15, most of these efficient looks created off his speed, athleticism, and ability to shoot from the outside.

A near 6-foot combo guard, he has the tools and ability to have a role in the college ranks. His size and length are good for the collegiate ranks, but he can even be better if you put him in the point to expose mismatches. The in-game playmaking and motor are there. He just needs to knock it up a notch so he can get consistent minutes in the collegiate level.

Aaron Fermin

Aaron Fermin is a peak traditional High School big man. With a 6’5” frame, it’s no surprise that he was a double-double machine for the Arellano Braves in his senior season in the NCAA. Averages of 16 points, 16 rebounds, and one block paint us a prospect that is certainly elite.

Aaron continued to flash his wares as a traditional big man in this showcase. Nothing fancy, just does things well, and the right way. What may have surprised some fans (maybe even scouts!) was his range or ability to show form from the outside. Despite being tagged as traditional, he was fluid from beyond the arc, with no signs of awkwardness from there.

He’s now on his way to the collegiate ranks, with his school of choice being the Adamson Soaring Falcons. It isn’t difficult to imagine him as a great fit with the Soaring Falcons, especially with the departure of Sean Manganti and Papi Sarr. Seeing him transition from big man to stretch four or wing like Manganti is not far from happening.

Mark Nonoy

Photo Credit: SLAM Philippines

Nonoy was literally an “unknown” about a year ago. It’s like he was a mystery character that’s just been unlocked in a video game. Coming out of nowhere, an unrecruited stud from Iloilo took the Tiger Cubs into a respectable finish despite losing MVP CJ Cansino. Despite being a one and done out of High School, he was able to rack up the statsheet and prove himself as an elite prospect.

Given the limited minutes players get in All Star games, it wasn’t surprising to see Mark fail to produce in the same rate he did during the UAAP season. Don’t mistake that as a disappointing performance from him. What was evident, however, was the kid’s unbelievable motor. He doesn’t have the word “chill” in his vocabulary, as his workhorse was in full display despite the All Star setting. He was lightning quick when scoring buckets, and how he handled himself on the court screamed athlete despite his 5’8” frame.

Despite the excitement surrounding the debut of Mark Nonoy in the UAAP Seniors Division, it wouldn’t be surprising to imagine Nonoy to bring the same mentality he brought when he arrived here in Manila. He’ll continue to be an Energizer Bunny, who does everything on the court with zero fear. He’s a hell of a gem UST has.

RJ Abarrientos

Abarrientos is a trademark name in Philippine basketball, and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. His uncle is the Flying A, Johnny Abarrientos, but it’s clear RJ is ready to make a name for himself. As a 5’11” guard who played for the FEU Baby Tamaraws with experience in the world stage, this kid still has raw talent and potential that he can develop even further.

RJ played the way he usually does; with confidence and the right amount of moves and flair. He definitely has that blend of ball control and court vision as evidenced with some of the slick passes he made. More than his ball handling, what stood out in this game — to the surprise of no one — was his outside game. He made 3 three pointers which served as a game-high. He was dead eye from the arc, so deadly that you’d probably get benched if you went under screens defending him.

Heading over to FEU for his college career, he’ll surely be surrounded by a culture that has produced the best of the best for years now. You can’t think of a better support group for a guard. His head coach is PBA legend Coach Olsen Racela, and his uncle is an assistant over there as well, both legendary guards in Philippine basketball. Knowing RJ’s unselfishness and energy, he’ll definitely be a sponge who will soak in all of the tips and lessons he can get from the two coaches.

Inand Fornillos

Ever heard of stars who don’t have exceptional talent, but have physical tools and intangibles to make up for them? Inand Fornillos fits the bill. He’s only 6’2”, which could lead you to think, “Is he really a big?” While he may not have the height, his athleticism and effort make up for whatever he lacks.

While he only scored six points, he more than made up for it by grabbing 12 rebounds. What was enjoyable about his game was how relentless he was. Walang arte. Laro lang. He was going up and down the court, flying to get rebounds and loose balls. He even had a putback dunk during the fourth quarter, leaping up effortlessly. He doesn’t need the ball to be effective. Give him the ball in the right place and he will produce.

There are players where their role is to be the team’s superstar. Fornillos, however, is a superstar in his own unique role. All the dirty work, intangibles, and everything else not seen in the standard stat sheets (setting screens, diving for loose balls, etc.). Those are his crossover dribbles, step-back threes, and coast to coast layups. Any collegiate team can use a guy like him and seeing him plenty of minutes isn’t difficult to imagine. He’s the ultimate team player and glue guy, full of unselfishness. The guy that coaches would love to coach and the player others would want to be teammates rather than opponents.

All photos by Gelay Davocol unless otherwise stated. Picture of Mark Nonoy from SLAM Philippines.