Never give up on your dream
In yesterday’s column, we started a series on unheralded players now making waves as overachievers in the PBA Governors Cup. Jerramy King of Columbian Dyip and Paul Zamar of Blackwater were profiled in the first installment. Here’s the next batch of players who struggled early as pros to become late-blooming survivors today.
Kenneth Ighalo. The 6-2 Fil-Nigerian was Kia’s third round pick in the 2014 PBA draft, the 28th of 41 chosen. Ighalo, whose father Sonny is Nigerian, attended Felkris Grade School in San Fernando, La Union, and the University of Baguio before moving to Mapua in the NCAA. Ighalo played sparingly for Kia as a rookie in 2014-15, averaging 2.0 points in 16 games. He was cut then reappeared in an NLEX uniform in the 2016-17 Governors Cup, averaging a point in nine outings.
Coach Yeng Guiao never lost hope in Ighalo coming into his own. In the Philippine Cup this season, Ighalo averaged 2.3 points in nine contests and in the Commissioner’s Cup, the clip improved to 4.0 points in 11 games. Now, in the Governors Cup, Ighalo is averaging 11 points, 4.3 rebounds and 20.8 minutes, hitting 41.4 percent from the three-point arc.
Ighalo, 29, has started in NLEX’ last four games. He dropped 18 points to power NLEX’ 124-106 win over Blackwater to deal the Elite its first loss this conference. Ighalo also scored in double figures in the Road Warriors’ wins over Northport and Columbian.
Nards Pinto. The chunky point guard from Davao City has gone from GlobalPort to Mahindra to Blackwater in his PBA career that didn’t appear too promising when he was the Batang Pier’s second round pick in the 2014 draft. Pinto, 27, averaged 1.2 points and 6.3 minutes in 21 games as a GlobalPort rookie then moved to Mahindra in 2015-16, hitting 3.3 points in 29 games over two conferences. He transferred to Blackwater before the start of the Governors Cup and showed signs of a reawakening to average 9.7 points in 10 outings.
In the Philippine Cup this season, Pinto’s stats took a dip as he averaged 3.5 points and in the Commissioner’s Cup, there was a slight improvement to 4.5 points. But in the Governors Cup, Pinto has been exceptional, averaging 12.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 30.3 minutes as a full-time starter. He played a key role in Blackwater’s 99-93 win over Rain Or Shine in Sta. Rosa last Sunday, firing 16 points including the triple to ice it. Import Henry Walker calls Pinto a “game changer,” something nobody dared to describe him as a rookie four years ago. Now, Pinto won’t hesitate to take the big shot or make the big play. Coach Bong Ramos has shown trust in Pinto who’s paying him back with huge dividends.
Simon Enciso. He was Rain Or Shine’s second round pick in the 2015 PBA draft, 17th overall as Glenn Khobuntin, Josan Nimes, Almond Vosotros and Brad Guinto were chosen ahead. Enciso, 27, was born in San Francisco and played at Notre Dame de Namur, a private Catholic university in the Bay Area. He earned a kinesiology degree at Notre Dame where former PBA player Nic Belasco also went to school.
The 5-11 Enciso was traded by Rain Or Shine to NLEX outright and in his first two seasons, suited up for three squads, shifting from the Road Warriors to Phoenix to Alaska. As a rookie, he averaged 7.3 points and 24.6 minutes in 37 games, 13 with Phoenix. Enciso never got a start at NLEX but had nine with the Fuel Masters. Last season, he played 13 games with Phoenix then was traded to the Aces for R. J. Jazul. Enciso wound up averaging 8.4 points and 27 minutes in 36 total games.
In the Philippine Cup this season, Enciso averaged 7.4 points and shot 34.5 percent from the three-point distance. In the Commissioner’s Cup, he also averaged 7.4 points but his marksmanship from beyond the arc fell to 25.4 percent. In the Governors Cup, Enciso is enjoying a breakout conference, averaging 16.3 points and 30.3 minutes with five starts in six games. He’s also hitting a lofty 49.1 percent from three-point range. Against TNT, he exploded for 30 points, including 9-of-12 triples. Against San Miguel Beer, Enciso fired 18 points and had seven dimes. Once destined to be a role player, Enciso has matured to become a major piece in coach Alex Compton’s system. (Continued tomorrow)