Justine Baltazar leads 70 hopefuls in PBA’s Season 49 rookie draft

Justine Baltazar leads 70 hopefuls in PBA’s Season 49 rookie draft

PROSPECTIVE top pick Justine Baltazar feels the two-year delay in his PBA bid has allowed him to get more battle ready for action in Asia’s first play-for-pay league.

The 6-foot-8 Mr. Baltazar initially applied for the PBA draft in 2022 but eventually withdrew and signed up with the Hiroshima Dragonflies in the Japan B. League.

He decided to skip the succeeding 2023 PBA draft and instead took his act to Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL), where he won Season and Finals MVP and helped the Pampanga Lanterns win the championship. “Last year, I’m not ready yet,” the former De La Salle standout said during Wednesday’s PBA Draft Combine. He believes the Japan and MPBL stints were beneficial to his PBA-readiness.

Mr. Baltazar is among 70 hopefuls who have entered their names in the PBA’s Season 49 selection process on Sunday.

And with the No. 1 choice at the hands of Converge, a team coached by his collegiate mentor Aldin Ayo and affiliated with his benefactor Gov. Dennis Pineda, Mr. Baltazar looms as the likely man.

Mr. Baltazar, who may, however, play out his contract with Pampanga until the end of the MPBL season before coming on board with his future PBA club. — Olmin Leyba