The hurt, silence of the undrafted

Rick Olivares

Posted at Oct 31 2016 12:15 PM

Jaycee Asuncion sucks it in and plans for next

Jaycee Asuncion and his dad Mario at the PBA Rookie Draft on Sunday. Photo by author

MANILA -- After Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) commissioner Chito Narvasa closed the 2016 Gatorade PBA Rookie Draft at the atrium of Robinsons Place Manila, there was a flurry of activity. 

Sportswriters quickly darted to and from looking to interview the newly drafted, veteran players, coaches, and the league commissioner himself. Athlete managers came over to shake hands with their wards and pose for photographs. Some people stood up to leave. 

Some 18 young men on the left side of the stage stayed glued to their seats. They wore masks on their faces. Or at least they tried to. Ashen. Hurt. Some fiddled with their cellphones. One of them was trying to text someone but he kept fumbling with his type pad. It was taking all his inner strength and resolve not to burst out into tears.

Girlfriends or parents quickly came over to console, put a hand around their arms. Whisper words of encouragement. A few didn’t say much. Sometimes, no words need to be said. After all, they didn’t hear their names called out.

Former Jose Rizal University (JRU) Heavy Bomber Jaycee Asuncion was one of those hopefuls whose hopes were dashed with every late pick called and every “pass” that the commissioner mentioned. 

“I did my best,” said Asuncion who held out his hands to accentuate his efforts. “I thought I did better than some of them during the draft combine. The others didn’t do too well…”

His voice trailed off and was left with his thoughts.

There are thoughts… disjointed. Is it because I didn’t go to a big school and program? Is it because I don’t have a big time backer? Maybe I need to do more.

His father, Mario, soon came over and offered words of advice, “Hindi pa tapos ito, anak,” he softly offered. “Meron pang chance. Mas mahirap nga lang. So kailangan natin magtrabaho.”

It was hard too for the father to say that. He managed a pained smile but he too was clearly hurting. What words will soothe the hurt when a lifelong dream has been snuffed? What will assuage the rejection? 

What followed were minutes of awkward silence.

Years ago, the draftees were all kept in a holding room away from the atrium to spare them the embarrassment of not being drafted. A couple of years ago, they were relocated back to the main area. 

It’s a funny setup. On one side are tables for all 12 teams with their coaches and players who wined and dined. On the other side were all the applicants who only sat in chairs and didn’t eat at all. Who didn’t dream of being on that other side?

Some 10 minutes after the draft was over, some of the undrafted found their legs and quietly made their way out. The Asuncions stayed for a few more. 

The 25-year old cager said he’d try to seek more tryouts with teams. “Kahit practice player man lang,” he wished. “At least meron chance.” 

If that doesn’t work, Jaycee’ll go back to the D-League and work his butt off in hopes he’d get noticed. Yet he knows that even there the clock is ticking. 

From several tables away, Narvasa sat. One of his first thoughts went out to those who were not drafted. “I wish all the applicants can find a team. But it isn’t like that. Hopefully, we can continue to improve the quality of the league so that we don’t rely on a few teams for fans. When the league grows, we will find more teams and jobs for our players.”

Over at the Asuncions’ side, father and some embraced, then stood up to leave.

The area of the draft applicants was now empty.

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