For the last decade, whenever people talked about the best point guard in the PBA today, there were a few names that always popped up in the conversation. Jayson Castro. Jimmy Alapag. Stanley Pringle. LA Tenorio. Paul Lee. Every single player on this list made their mark on the league in one way or another.
However, there were two instances when a certain Mark Barroca sat at the Iron Throne of PBA’s elite point guards.
The first was in 2014.
It was four years ago when Barroca showed to the rest of the league how a floor general should operate in a game. Throughout the Mixers’ 2014 Grand Slam season, the then-third year pro averaged 10.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game. His presence might not be as readily apparent as other guards in the league, but he did everything that was necessary on both ends of the floor to help his team win four straight titles.
Even with James Yap, PJ Simon and Marc Pingris on the lineup, the young Barroca could be considered as the most important piece of that successful San Mig Coffee team. He didn’t lead his team in stats, but Barroca led his team to numerous victories.
For a while, Barroca was Coach Tim Cone’s Johnny Abarrientos of the 21st century: a smart, tenacious, do-it-all point guard who perfectly executed the Triangle on offense, and unrepentantly unleashed hell on defense. No wonder his name was heralded many times, from All-Defensive and Mythical Team selections to the Finals MVP of the 2014 Philippine Cup. With the way he performed, he was poised to take over as the new leader of the storied Purefoods franchise as it moved to a new era.
But as fate would have it, Barroca’s reign didn’t last long. Cone’s departure from San Mig Coffee practically moved the league’s spotlight away from his protégé. While it’s true that Barroca still produced the same numbers, the attention he gained became lesser and lesser as his team moved farther away from the championship situations. All of a sudden, he wasn’t the epitome of a perfect point guard anymore.
Lee’s arrival at Magnolia certainly didn’t help Barroca realize his destiny of becoming the team’s main man. In just two years, he transitioned from a potential franchise player to a piece of a formidable team built around Lee. His status on the league descended faster than his rise to superstardom.
So came the big lull. Barroca, who was once at the forefront of the discussions for the best point guard in the league, was set aside from the list for quite some time.
It wasn’t until the 2018 Governor’s Cup finals that he reasserted himself back to the elites.
It was Game 1 of the Finals. Magnolia barged into title contention once more after being defeated by San Miguel on the same stage just a few months back. This time, they faced a familiar foe in Alaska. As both teams chased for glory that eluded them for quite some time, the series was bound to be a slugfest.
The usual suspects performed as expected. Romeo Travis dropped 29 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. Paul Lee and Ian Sangalang added 14 and 10 points, respectively. Mike Harris finished with a 20-15-2-4-3 statline in an all-around effort that ended with a loss.
However, Mark Barroca outshined everyone on that particular game. That night, he unleashed a remarkable performance on both ends of the court as he finished with 16 points, three assists and six steals. He led the Hotshots to the opening game victory over the Aces.
In a way, Barroca’s game one performance was his reintroduction to the rest of the league upon his return on the big stage. “I’M BACK”. However, he did nothing fancy that night. Throughout the game, he played within the flow of the offense and marked his opponents tightly on defense. He just played his game all night long.
As it turned out, game one was just the opening act of Barroca’s series-long comeback to the bright lights of the league. Throughout the Finals, he consistently found ways to contribute for his team. His influence was felt across the stat sheet as he scored points, made plays for his team, crashed the boards and defended opposing guards. He ended the series with averages of 11.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.8 steals per game.
He ended his return trip to glory with an exclamation point. Come Game 6, he helped the Hotshots claim their first title in four years with 13 points, five rebounds, four assists and one steal.
Just like in the series opener, Barroca kept his play simple. A jumper here. A pinpoint pass there. He showcased his no-nonsense brand of basketball just like how he played ever since he entered the league seven years ago. It was effective. By the end of the night, he went home with two trophies: the championship and the Finals MVP.
In this ever-changing league, Barroca proved that it pays to stay true to his identity. Yes, he may have lost his chance at becoming a franchise player along the way. He may have taken four long years before his return, but he’s back at the top of the league.
Even just for this series, even for just for a night, it can be said that Mark Barroca is the best point guard in the PBA once again.