Although the awards that the PBA will be giving out for the shortened 45th season have yet to be finalized, there's a big possibility that the league will still be naming its Rookie of the Year even if the newest members of the PBA fraternity only got to play one conference.
Roosevelt Adams of the TerraFirma Dyip led all rookies in statistical points at the end of the elimination round but now there are only three youngsters playing in the semifinals in Meralco's Aaron Black, TNT's Kib Montalbo, and Ginebra's Arvin Tolentino.
So far, Tolentino has been the only one to start for his team, which has enabled him to get an added push in the race for the ROY award. Currently, he's averaging 8.7 points and 4.7 rebounds, getting around 25 minutes per game under coach Tim Cone.
Black, on the other end, averages 4.3 points and 3.0 rebounds in 15 minutes, while Montalbo norms 4.0 points and 1.3 rebounds in 10 minutes per contest.
For Tolentino, his stint as a semis starter so far is a by-product of his hard work coupled with falling into a great situation with Barangay Ginebra. In terms of just pure talent, Tolentino could have easily been a top five pick in the 2019 PBA Rookie Draft, but fate had a better plan for him.
"I wasn't thinking about where I'd land but I was wishing to be picked in the first round," Tolentino said. "During the draft, when I heard Coach O (Olsen Racela), I already felt he was about to pick me. He said my full name and I was so happy because it was Ginebra. The adjustment for me coming from college in FEU to Coach Tim wasn't that much because Coach O does a lot of similar things. Coach O has been there to guide me and the veterans as well so I was able to adjust quickly."
Tolentino started the first few games for Barangay Ginebra but there were also games where he did not see a lot of minutes with Cone doing his best in balancing between pushing the other players back into shape and keeping those who have aches and pains fresh.
Amidst all this, the rookie retained the confidence that his coach helped him build through multiple practices and conversations.
"Before the start of the season, Coach Tim always tells me that if I'm open I should take it. Sometimes in practice, he gets mad at me when I don't shoot," the rookie said. "He really pushed me to work on my three-point shooting and stretch out the defense. Sometimes after practice, he even rebounds for me because that's the role he wants for me."
Part of what makes Tolentino confident was believing in the work that he put in during the seven months he spent away from his teammates.
"During the lockdown, I took it as extra time to be ready. I told myself that when the season comes along, I need to be more ready than the last time Coach Tim saw me," Tolentino said.
Luckily for the young big, he had a good role model he sought guidance from during those times in his brother-in-law, Doug Kramer.
"Everyday, I was working out with Kuya Doug," he said. "He was giving me tips on how to be stronger, on how to prepare for the games, how to study the players that I'll be defending. He explained how important it is to learn about the tendencies of my opponents."
After playing limited minutes against Rain or Shine in the quarterfinals, little did Arvin know that he'd get a much bigger role in the semis.
"We were on the bus after our last practice before the semis. Coach Tim told me to be ready because I was going to start. I just prepared myself mentally because coach always tells us how crucial Game One is," Tolentino said. "Some people say Coach Tim doesn't really play his rookies during the playoffs but I still have to stay ready. If he needs me, I have to be ready."
With Ginebra being one win away from a Finals stint, Tolentino could be the favorite to win the Rookie Year of the Year award. However, this isn't something he's focusing on.
"I'm not thinking about it. I read about it and hear about it but I don't want to focus on it," he said. "I want to play in the Finals and help my team win a championship. Individual awards are not a priority. If I can help the team win, then individual awards will be a bonus."