The SLAM Rising Stars Classic has long been a stage for the best of the best in high school basketball to showcase their wares to a bigger audience. As good as everyone was in the game, Evan Nelle’s game-long brilliance and Kai Sotto’s endgame dominance propelled both of them to win the MVP award for the game.
But Kai and Evan weren’t the only players who impressed. We show some love to the other players who made their mark in the Classic:
Needs to Adjust Game
As dominant as he was during the NCAA tournament, Aaron Fermin looked a little rattled when he went up against the best of the best in High School basketball. His rebounding was solid, managing to grab nine rebounds amidst all of the trees he was with in the game, but he wasn’t able to show a polished offensive game, mostly relying off offensive rebounds and drop passes to get opportunities to score at the rim. Statistically, he may have been better than fellow NCAA big Warren Bonifacio, but the Mapua big has him beat in terms of offensive skillset.
Fermin is a physical specimen who will be a joy to develop as a power forward in the future given his athletic ability and strength. But with the remaining time he has left in the High School level, he has to adjust his game in order to make a splash in the collegiate level.
Harvey Pagsanjan (2017), Shaun Ildefonso (2016), Mark Dyke (2015), Mike Nieto (2014)
The first time Neil Tolentino scored in the Rising Stars Classic, a fan beside me muttered “Aba, buti naman scumore yun! Kala ko tatakbo takbo lang sa court eh.” But Tolentino did not treat that basket as anything worth celebrating over. He continued to run, but this was with purpose. He continued to attack the basket and cut to the paint, and to the surprise of many, Tolentino wound up with 10 points to help the cause of Team Hype in the Rising Stars Classic.
The graduating Squire will forever make a living annoying the living hell out of opposing guards. But his aggressiveness offensively was a fresh sight for coaches, as that’s the kind of energy you’d want out of a defensive pest in the mold of Tolentino.
Aaron Fermin (2017), Marco Sario (2016), Tyler Tio (2015), Radge Tongco (2014)
Swiss Army Knife Guy
When the term “Swiss Army Knife” is thrown around, we immediately think of lanky, do-it all wings who can play multiple positions with their deep skillset. The keyword in all this is “versatility”. As awesome as Rhayyan Amsali was all game with his ability to play multiple positions, Jason Credo takes the award with the versatile game he showed in the Rising Stars Classic.
He’s in the same mold of the typical 3DA wing who can play multiple positions. For Credo’s case, he showcased in the Rising Stars Classic how he could play from the point guard position up to the power forward position. He’s a high IQ player who rarely forces the issue, and instead focuses on doing the little things to make the correct basketball play. It will be fun to see him develop under coach Tab Baldwin.
Robert Minerva (2017), Javi Gomez De Liaño (2016), JD Tungcab (2015), Thirdy Ravena (2014)
For the longest time, LJay Gonzales has been described as a ball of energy, a terrific athlete who uses his gifts well to the advantage of his team. From start to finish, Gonzales played with the same amount of energy and tenacity as Team Hype tried to make its comeback. The result was an impressive 14 point, six rebound and seven assist performance by Gonzales to help the cause of Team Hype.
There are still facets to fix with Gonzales’ game such as his jump-shot, his free throw shooting and his erratic decision making. But the energy and desire to compete are there. That’s a good foundation to start on for his college career.
LJay Gonzales (2017), Gian Mamuyac (2016), Mark Dyke (2015), Clint Doliguez (2014)
Best Big Man
This may have been the best big man class in Rising Stars Classic history, but it was an easy choice to make. Will Gozum and Raven Cortez put up admirable efforts for Team Hype, but Kai Sotto takes the cake as the Best Big Man in this batch of Rising Stars.
It’s been said time and time again: you can’t teach height. Sotto used his 7’1″ frame to the brim, grabbing rebounds with ease (game-high 13) and protecting the rim with his long arms (three blocks). But as impressive as those were, it was the flashes of offensive brilliance that really surprised many. He was whipping out passes, some no-look ones, surprising most of the fans who watched the game. Then when the overtime period came, Sotto raised his game to another level, flipping the switch and defending with more gusto despite his tired legs. The future is indeed bright for Philippine Basketball.
Will Gozum (2017), Justine Baltazar (2016), JBoy Gob (2015), Prince Rivero (2014)
Most Polished Scorer
You don’t score a Rising Stars Classic record 27 points on 11/18 shooting with just luck. It requires skill and polish, something rare from many High School players today. John Galinato is not your regular high school player, as he showcased a complete offensive game that was too difficult to defend for Team Punks.
Many know him mostly as a jump shooter, but Galinato showed more than just his shooting ability. He may not have the athletic ability or explosiveness as an LJay Gonzales, but he was still getting to the rim with a variety of skilled moves. Quick hesitations? Easy. A dribble drive leading to a lay-up? Money. He’s been compared to PJ Simon for the longest time now, and he showed just why he may be the next Scoring Disciple in the Rising Stars Classic.
Juan Gomez De Liano (2017, 2016), Andrei Caracut (2015), Hubert Cani (2014)
(READ: John Galinato was one of the seniors who made a big splash in their last high school game)
When we talk about the Lyceum Junior Pirates, Batang Gilas stalwart Mac Guadaña immediately comes to mind. But in the Rising Stars Classic, the Junior Pirate who was able to make his mark was Vincent Cunanan, the 5’10” spitfire who’s bound for the Pirates come NCAA Season 94.
Cunanan likes to compare himself to Jayson Castro, and you could see glimpses of The Blur. He’s undoubtedly quick, but even more impressive was his sneaky explosiveness and how he used this to get to the rim with ease. He also had body control, making sure not to let the acceleration get in the way of his efficiency. He was one of the lesser known names coming into the Rising Stars Classic, but he ran away with the hearts of many fans with how well he played.
Guilmer Dela Torre (2017), John Lloyd Clemente (2016), JV Gallego (2015), Adven Diputado (2014)
Being awarded the “Athletic Freak” award doesn’t mean you’re the one who had the most dunks. If that was the case, then Kai Sotto would be the easy winner here (but hey, basketball gods, if you’re listening, if you want him to become an athletic freak BY ALL MEANS). But he isn’t, because the real athlete who stood out was CJ Cansino.
He isn’t your typical athlete who can dunk with ease. He’s athletic in the same mold as an Ed Daquioag – who he’s been compared to for the longest time now – quick, strong, and explosive. The game looked so easy for Cansino in the Rising Stars Classic, just getting to the rim as if it was nothing, and even hitting the occasional jumper when need be. He wasn’t just jumping and running with zero purpose. The MVP was controlled, failing to miss even A SINGLE shot during the game en route for 20 points. UST, you have yourselves a gem.
Troy Mallillin (2017), Ricci Rivero (2016), Mark Dyke (2015), Thirdy Ravena (2014)
This was John Galinato’s award for the taking after his nine-point outburst during the fourth quarter, including a big three that could have given Team Hype the win over Team Punks. But Dave Ildefonso had other plans, channelling his inner Mamba a possession later.
For most of the game, Ildefonso looked nonchalant, treating the game as a blessing rather than a competition. But after hitting that big three, he went to work during overtime and turned on the jets for Team Punks. He may have just scored two points during the overtime period, but his aggressiveness and constant attacking set the tone for Team Punks, and ultimately, gave his team the win.
Juan Gomez de Liano (2017), Aljun Melecio (2016), Jolo Mendoza (2015), Hubert Cani (2014)
Finally, after a roller coaster High School career, Evan Nelle ended it with a bang and was impressive going up against the best of the best in high school basketball. The Nelle we’ve been waiting for the past two years finally showed up, and got an MVP award in the process of his masterpiece.
He had five fouls but that’s a small blip to how well Nelle played in the Rising Stars Classic. He was aggressive from the get go, but at the same time, he was controlled. He was no longer forcing jumpers unlike before, and was instead letting the game come to him. The future Red Lion was no longer forcing the issue, playing like the point guard we long envisioned him to be. The San Beda community have themselves quite the player in Nelle coming in.
LJay Gonzales (2017), Tyler Tio (2016), Andrei Caracut (2015), Thirdy Ravena (2014)