Phoenix coach Topex Robinson says the team got exactly who they wanted to select in the 46th PBA Season Rookie Draft. Now the real work begins.
"I don't know -- by stroke of luck or something -- but we just got the guys that we wished for, the guys that we wanted to have. We thought we'd never get the chance to have them," Robinson said Monday.
"We're given what we asked for, so now we need to deliver. Whatever happens, we'll be judged by how we perform," he added. "That's part of our responsibility as coaches. But I'd rather have that kind of problem."
The Fuel Masters nailed all of their picks in a loaded draft, selecting five prospects that will all be given a chance to shine one way or another down the road.
In the first round, Phoenix went with NCAA champion big man Larry Muyang after trading down to No. 7 by virtue of the Vic Manuel trade.
Muyang, a Rookie of the Year awardee in Season 94 before helping Letran to a title the following year, is expected to contribute right away in a talented Phoenix frontline rotation that also consists of Jason Perkins, Justin Chua and Vic Manuel.
"We got what we wanted in Larry because he can defend in the post and he's a proven champion," said Robinson. "Larry will bring depth in our front court position. He is big and heavy and hard to push around. What surprised me was he can shoot threes! Perfect for our system."
Nick Demusis and Aljun Melecio, who were both top targets by Phoenix in the second round, later went back-to-back at No. 18 and No. 19.
"We are blessed to get Nick and Aljun in the second round. We never thought that they will still be available that deep," he said.
Demusis, a Fil-Hawaiian swingman who played for NCAA Division III school Whittier and the Bacoor Strikers in the MPBL, is up there among this year's draftees in terms of athleticism and versatility.
"I like what I saw in Nick when he worked out with us. He is hungry and is just waiting for that opportunity," Robinson noted.
Melecio, a fixture in De La Salle's backcourt during his days as a star guard in the UAAP, could serve as a key playmaker in the second unit for the Fuel Masters.
"I've followed Aljun's career in college and I am a big fan of his. When Aljun decided to enter the draft, I wished him all the best. Now that he's with me, it gets me more excited," said Robinson.
Phoenix later took Reymar Caduyac, who was one of Robinson's players in Lyceum, at No. 34. "Caduyac is my player at LPU and I know his potential," Robinson said.
Gambles were later made in the fourth and fifth rounds, where the Fuel Masters selected Max Henstchel and Jerie Pingoy.
Robinson admitted he hasn't seen tapes of Henstchel, who was drafted 46th overall, but he did say he liked the prospect's physical attributes.
"I haven't seen Max play, but he is 6'4 and 22 years old. Not bad," he remarked.
Pingoy, meanwhile, was taken at No. 52 and will have a golden chance with the Fuel Masters to show why he was once a highly-recruited high school prospect as a two-time UAAP juniors MVP with the FEU Baby Tamaraws.
"What's important is there's an opportunity. Just like in life -- you're gonna fall down, but there's going to be an opportunity," Robinson said of Pingoy.
Bolstering the core was an important task for Robinson and the Fuel Masters, who pulled off a tremendous 2020 Philippine Cup performance during Robinson's first stint as a PBA head coach.
"We're in a better position now. The only challenge now is how to make them dance the same tune. That's where the job starts for us," Robinson continued. "We got what we wanted. Now how can we make them play together as a cohesive force? I'm excited about it."
Under Robinson, who was elevated to full-time head coach in the middle of the conference, Phoenix bannered a top-two offense and came close to making the PBA Finals for the first time.
In the bubble, the Fuel Masters scored 98.3 points per game and posted a 105.8 offensive rating, both No. 2 marks. The team also led the league in assists per game (23.4) and ranked third in three-point percentage (35.0 percent) while firing 38.1 attempts, good for second.
But Phoenix made sure it wouldn't set itself up for a letdown after that fine showing by getting busy in the offseason, adding Manuel and Chris Banchero after trading away Calvin Abueva earlier.
And after a productive draft, Robinson says the next step is making the pieces work while showing that they truly deserve the respect given to them in the PBA.
"I was actually telling the players this: we wanted respect coming into the bubble. Now that we earned it, the real work comes in. We're not going to be pushed around by teams now," he said. "Now that we're respected, what next? Are we just going to be happy that we are respected, or are we going to be motivated now that we earned it?"