It’s not easy for any rookie to make a sudden impact in the league. But in the history of the PBA, several first year players have gone out to become great players right out of the gate.
In this installment of The List, we present the best rookies in their maiden seasons. As always, here are some honorable mentions:
Upon joining the PBA in 1982, “The Mighty Mite” instantly became San Miguel’s top player. He teamed up with super import Norman Black to lead the Beermen to the championship in that season’s Invitational Conference, a runner-up finish in the Reinforced Conference, and a third-place finish in the Open Conference. For his troubles, Saldaña won that year’s Rookie of the Year award.
When he joined the Purefoods Hotdogs in 1988, Codiñera heralded the entry of the next generation of the league’s great big men to break the stranglehold of pioneers Ramon Fernandez and Abet Guidaben. Codiñera helped Purefoods to two finals appearances, and was named to the Mythical Second Team.
Alvarez’s impact on the PBA in his rookie year can be summed up by his nickname: Mr. Excitement. His game transformed his team so much that media gave the whole squad a nickname: the Alaska Air Force. The only reason he didn’t win Rookie of the Year honors was because there was another first-year player by the name of Benjie Paras.
It’s hard to believe now, after his career is over, but some people believed that Jun Limpot would end up becoming the greatest PBA player after his rookie season with Sta. Lucia. He led the Realtors to a final four finish in the All-Filipino Conference in his maiden tournament, and tantalized the whole league with his seemingly limitless potential.
A top prospect in 1995, it shocked everyone when EJ Feihl, Chris Jackson, and Bryant Punzalan were picked ahead of Cariaso in the draft. He fell to the sixth spot, into the waiting arms of the Alaska Milkmen, whom he helped to a title in three championship appearances that season, when he won Rookie of the Year honors.
Ildefonso was the subject of a tug-of-war even before his very first game; he had supposedly signed with Pangasinan in the MBA, causing Shell to trade him to San Miguel in exchange for Noy Castillo to avoid a messy situation in 1998. As a young center, he helped transform the Beermen to become a more complete team, making two finals appearances. Ildefonso won Rookie of the Year and was part of the Mythical Second Team.
Fans were shocked when Ginebra selected an unknown kid from Eagle Rock, California with the third pick in 2001. They were positively flabbergasted when it turned out that bleach-blonde punk could play. He helped Ginebra crash the 2001 All-Filipino finals, and won Rookie of the Year — and the undying admiration of the barangay — along the way.