In the entire history of the PBA, only three rookies drafted outside the first round ended up winning the Rookie of the Year award. Leo Austria did it first as the 10th pick overall in 1985 (there were only six teams then), Gerry Esplana followed as the ninth pick in 1990 (eight teams), and Larry Fonacier as the 15th pick in 2005.
It might not be the full-fledged Rookie of the Year award, but Aaron Black is hoping to be in the same boat as the aforementioned PBA players.
In the 2019 PBA Draft, 17 players were selected ahead of the Ateneo product until his father, Meralco Bolts head coach Norman Black, selected him. Black joins first pick Roosevelt Adams (TerraFirma), fourth pick Barkley Eboña (Alaska), ninth pick Aris Dionisio (Magnolia), and 10th pick Arvin Tolentino (Barangay Ginebra) in the race of the unique Outstanding Rookie commendation.
"It's every kid's dream to be a first-rounder or to be a top pick growing up so it definitely inspired me to work harder," Black said about getting picked in the second round.
"I didn't just go to Meralco in the second round, I went to my dad's team, so it was like a double whammy," Black added feeling that it was a default pick. "But when I fell to the second round, I fell to the right team. It ended up being a blessing in disguise because it pushed me to do better. I worked so hard during the lockdown, thinking that I had a lot of people that I wanted to prove wrong."
Black took a unique path to the PBA as he passed up on joining the Ateneo Blue Eagles in his last year of eligibility. He felt training abroad and playing outside the collegiate competitions would prepare him better for the pros.
"I credit my family for helping me make that decision because I would not have taken that route without their help. It was a very difficult decision," he shared.
"Confidence-wise, it was big for me because, when I went to the States, I played against guys who were heading into the NBA Draft. I was able to compete over there. Then when I got back here, coach Charles Tiu got me for Mighty Sports for the Jones Cup."
With Mighty Sports, Black got to see up-close-and-personal how PBA imports Renaldo Balkman and Eugene Phelps worked. He was also pushed by other talented Filipino players such as Jason Brickman, Mikey Williams, Jeremiah Gray, and his fellow Outstanding Rookie candidate Adams.
"That's really when it started for me. Being with my teammates in practice and playing against the national teams of other countries gave me a lot of confidence to play in the PBA D-League and the MBPL," Black added.
"I also thank my coaches in the MPBL and PBA D-League for giving me the freedom to play the point guard position because that's what I wanted to explore. I knew that it would be an advantage for me to be a bigger point guard in the PBA."
Black knew that he put in the work to best prepare him for the challenges of the PBA. Still, it took him a few games to prove to himself that he really belongs.
"No matter how hard you work, you really won't know if you belong on that stage until you get there," Black said.
"For me, it was the fourth game against Magnolia. Heading into that game, I was super nervous. They have some of the best guards in the league in (Jio) Jalalon, Paul Lee, Mark Barroca, (Chris) Banchero, and Justin Melton is a really good defender. After the first half, I was able to make a couple of assists and score a few points. I started to feel that I belong because I could compete against these great point guards."
Black ended up averaging 7.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists in the elimination round for Meralco, shooting a solid 39% from the three-point range.
"Winning this award would mean everything to me," said the 24-year-old guard. "This might be the only bubble conference in PBA history. So for me, to have your name in the history books as the best rookie of this conference, I worked so hard for it. It's something that I'd enjoy. I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't want the award. It's a credit as well to my teammates and to my coaches because without them, I would not have been in the conversation for that award."
While there has not been an official announcement yet, it's been brought to the table that all the 2019 PBA Draft selections will still be in the running for the Rookie of the Year honors in the upcoming season to give them a chance to win the linear award that traces its roots from 1976 when Gil Cortez won it first.
For Black, although it would be nice to win, his focus would be to help his team win a championship.
"Next season, we should be chasing a championship. I felt we could have had it in the bubble but Scottie (Thompson) beat us at the buzzer," he closed. "If I play well and the Rookie of the Year award comes, then that'll be great, of course, but my priority really is to help Meralco win a championship."