As early as college, Justin Arana was already setting his sights playing in the PBA.
As far as a basketball career in the country goes, he believes it should be the ultimate destination for somebody like him dreaming of playing in the big league and providing his family a better life.
“Pangarap ko na ’yan noon pang naglalaro ako sa college,” Arana told ABS-CBN News in a telephone interview. “Siguro, kahit sino namang player nangangarap ring maglaro sa PBA.”
Unlike other players who decided to seek better opportunities playing overseas such as the Japan B.League and the Taiwan T1 League, the 6-foot-6 center from Arellano University believes the PBA is the next best thing for him, which is why he didn’t pass up the opportunity as soon as he wrapped up his final season with the Chiefs in the NCAA.
“Gusto ko rin kasing bigyan ng magandang buhay ang pamilya ko,” he added. “Galing rin naman kasi kami sa mahirap na pamilya. Kaya nu’ng after ko mag-graduate, desidido na ako na umakyat kaagad at maglaro sa PBA.”
In the NCAA, Arana averaged 14.8 points, 17.1 rebounds and 2.8 blocks, putting him in strong contention for the MVP award.
He made heads turn in the recent Draft Combine where he impressed coaches who watched prospects during the two-day workout, displaying not just their individual skills, but also showing their potential as they played in scrimmages.
Participants were divided into teams and Arana was one of those who played solid on both ends of the floor.
His stock was boosted even more when potential top overall rookie picks Justin Baltazar of La Salle and US-raised Filipino guard Sedrick Barefield became unavailable for this year’s Rookie Draft.
Baltazar, the 6-foot-8 stalwart of La Salle, who also saw action for Gilas Pilipinas last year, decided to pull out of the Rookie Draft to pursue playing in the Japan B.League. Barefield, the 6-foot-2 former G League player, was declared ineligible after failing to secure a Philippine passport.
The deadline for submission of a passport by Filipino players born overseas was p.m. Friday, May 13.
“In the absence of the Philippine passport, Fil-foreign players should have at least secured a certification from the Department of Foreign Affairs which would guarantee that they’re going to get their passport,” said PBA commissioner Willie Marcial.
Without Baltazar and Barefield, Arana is now being considered among those being considered as a No.1 pick, but the NCAA standout would be happy enough to get drafted by a team that will utilize his talent.
Other top prospects include Brandon Ganuelas-Rosser, who is currently playing for the Philippine 3x3 team at the Vietnam Southeast Asian Games, and athletic Jeremiah Gray, who is still recovering from a knee injury.
“If makuha akong No.1, bonus na lang sa akin ’yan, pero hindi ko inaasahan ’yan,” he added. “Mas excited ako na mapunta ako sa team na kakailanganin ako at makakatulong ako. Magkahalong nerbiyos at excitement yung nararamdaman ko ngayon.”