For Troy Rike and Santi Santillan, making the move from the 3x3 circuit to the PBA was something that just felt right.
The two 3x3 standouts, who recently submitted their applications for the 2021 Rookie Draft this March, said Saturday on the Power & Play radio show that this was the right time to take their talents to the big league.
"I just felt it was time," Rike said on the program hosted by former commissioner Noli Eala. "I think after talking with my family and really thinking about it, I think it was time for me to enter the PBA Draft."
"I only dreamt of entering the PBA before. It's probably time to show the skills that I can carry over to the PBA," Santillan added.
Both players, along with Joshua Munzon, Alvin Pasaol and Franky Johnson, initially had an eye towards the FIBA 3x3 Olympic Qualifying Tournament before deciding to make the jump to the PBA.
Santillan, a tough 6-foot-5 forward out of De La Salle University, played for Marinerong Pilipino in the D-League and Zamboanga in the MPBL before carving out a solid career in the 3x3 game as the sixth-highest ranked player in the Philippines today.
The 6-foot-8 Rike, meanwhile, is currently ranked the no. 5 3x3 player in the country. Before that, the 25-year-old big man had stints with Wake Forest in NCAA Division I, National University in the UAAP, and also AMA in the D-League.
"I would be blessed to enter the PBA. Before, we only used to play on the streets. The rings were even made of car tires. It would be a huge achievement for me," the 24-year-old Santillan said.
"It's a challenge and an achievement at the same time. I think it represents a lot in terms of making it to that level," Rike continued. "You have to be at a certain skill level and a certain number of accomplishments, but also at the same time it's going to be a huge challenge, it's a new opportunity for me to improve and prove myself as a basketball player. It's just a new chapter that I'm excited to get started."
Asked whether or not they are done with 3x3, both said it all depends on how things shape up for them in the future.
"I think there was a lot of unfinished business with 3x3," said Rike. "We had a lot we wanted to do and wanted to achieve and kind of take that next step towards 3x3 getting us to the Olympics. Obviously, the pandemic kind of put a wrench to those plans and kind of messed up the timing of everything.
"I hope that journey isn't completely over for me, at least in representing the country in some capacity. That's definitely a dream for me," he continued. "We'll see what happens with that."
Added Santillan: "I just stopped 3x3 for now in favor of the PBA. If there's a chance I can play in 3x3, why not?"
After all, both players said they owe a lot to 3x3 since it enabled them to add and improve different facets of their games.
"I think it just really allowed me to work on my skills. That's the biggest thing, because 3x3 is all about versatility. Having to guard guards was a big thing for me, dribble a little bit more than I used to, just kind of doing more things that, to be quite honest, maybe I've been a little more uncomfortable doing prior in my career," said Rike. "I think specifically 3x3 allowed me to work on some skills and hopefully get me to a point where I'm ready and be able to make an impact in the PBA."
"It really helped me because like Troy, I was able to guard smaller and faster players. And I was able to improve on my shooting as well," explained Santillan.
Right now, though, the focus is still on making the necessary improvements to match the level of competition when they do make it to the PBA.
"Maybe it's my defense, because I'm going to be guarding bigger and stronger players," Santillan answered when asked about certain improvements he still has to make.
"I would say just being super consistent, maybe? But just improving on anything. To be the best rebounder, the best defender, the best whatever I can be to help the team win. Just taking that to the next level because I think I'm going to play a similar game as I've always had, but obviously playing in the PBA, you got to step your game up," Rike shared.
Both project to be solid contributors who are comfortable switching through multiple positions in the frontcourt.
"I think I can play the center and guard some of the bigger guys in the league, but also I feel 100 percent comfortable being out there with an import or somebody and spacing the floor. For me, it's whatever the team needs," Rike said.
"I still have to make my body stronger, but I can play the power forward or the small forward position. Those are positions I've played in before," noted Santillan.
Naturally, Rike and Santillan are already looking to play with or against some of the league's most notable veteran stars today.
For Santillan, he hopes to share the floor with Magnolia's Marc Pingris, who is someone he can relate with in terms of overcoming personal struggles.
"He had nothing but because of basketball, he was able to provide for his family. I'm able to relate to his story. I went through that as well. I feel like I'll be challenged when I get to play against Marc because he plays with heart. We play the same game, too," he shared.
Rike, meanwhile, hopes to see Gabe Norwood as a peer in the PBA soon.
"Ever since I've gone out here, he's been so helpful to me in helping me adjust and everything. It'd be nice to play with him or against him," he said. "I felt a little corny using the word mentor, but I guess you could use that. We live in a similar area and he was one of the first people I met when I got off the plane."