Rookies Belo, Banal look to make mark at Blackwater
MANILA, Philippines – Three-year expansion team Blackwater Elite gained a much-needed boost with the drafting of national team standout Mac Belo and guard Ael Banal in the 2016 PBA Rookie Draft on Sunday, October 30, at Robinsons Place Manila.
Both are top players with the potential to become anchors of the young franchise that's still searching for success and identity in the league.
"Young bloods. Talent-wise, they can develop into future PBA superstars and play good basketball for Blackwater," said head coach Leo Isaac.
"We're hoping that they can help us in our cause and we're very optimistic with this development that we're able to grab the best available talent in this Rookie Draft."
Belo, 23, is a former UAAP Finals MVP out of Far Eastern University and has been a key cog of the national team, winning gold medals in international tournaments such as the SEABA Cup in 2015 and 2016, and the Southeast Asian Games in 2013 and 2015.
"I can't explain what I'm feeling. I'm very happy and excited, it's a lot of mixed feelings but I'm very thankful to the Lord that He let my dream come true," the 6-foot-4 Belo, who was touted as the top pick before the draft, tried to explain his emotions in Filipino after hearing his named called on stage.
"All my hard work paid off. Now I need to do my best to help my family and my new team."
The 24-year-old Banal, on the other hand, is eager to prove himself as well. A relatively unknown player out of Hope International University in California, Banal left an impression during the rookie combine two days before draft day.
Banal, who played the required two conferences in the PBA D-League, recognizes that he can be a source of offense for Blackwater.
"I know one of my assets is my scoring shots and outside shooting so I can definitely bring that to the table. My offensive touch is always going to be there," Banal said. "In terms of playing for Blackwater, I think we're all pretty young so it's exciting to see what can be in store for us this season."
Blackwater has toiled at the bottom of the standings since joining the PBA, winning a total of only 11 games. Though they made the playoffs for the first time this past 2016 season in the Philippine Cup.
"We want a more prominent appearance in the playoffs," Isaac said. "We want to be a contender, competitive with the other top brass PBA teams and as we go on to our third year, gusto namin nandoon na kami at lumalaban lagi kami (we want to be right there putting up a fight)."
Both Belo and Banal are looking forward to the prospect and challenge of leading Blackwater out of the cellar.
"We're going to help each other because we're playing in one team. We'll help lift up the team," Belo said.
"One thing I promise is that I'm going to give a hundred percent every time I step on the court, every time I practice. I'm excited to work hard with the team," added Banal.
The 2017 PBA season begins November 20. – Rappler.com