Meralco head coach Ryan Gregorio walked up to the white board in his small working area outside the Meralco Gym. He uncapped a temporary marker and encircled 2015.
“This is going to be a good year for us,” he said. “We can start building the future of Meralco in the draft.”
The early stint of the Bolts in the PBA were marred with bad decisions. They traded away players who are now thriving in the league such as San Miguel Beer’s Chris Ross, Gienbra’s Sol Mercado and Alaska’s Vic Manuel.
Gregorio would lose his spot as Meralco’s head coach before the 2015 PBA Rookie Draft and although he would not be able to realize his vision for the team’s breakthrough, he was right about the draft being the turning point of the franchise.
Only A Matter of Time – The Expected Rise of Baser Amer
Written by Khyte Mendoza
Baser Amer was one of the most-awaited players from the 2015 PBA draft class. He was a prospect that held promise since his collegiate career in San Beda, where he bagged four NCAA crowns and one PCCL championship.
In his final year donning a Red Lion uniform, though, Amer was bogged down with a right shoulder injury and it kept him out for the first round of 91st season of the NCAA. Teams and basketball fans were worried that his stock could fall flat, but the SBC alumnus declared for the draft hoping to just live the dream of playing in the pros.
August 23, 2015 – Draft day. 64 aspirants were praying for their names to be called by the PBA Commissioner in Robinsons Place in Ermita, Manila. He did not have to wait for long because despite his injury, Amer is still Amer. Everyone knew that once he recovers, he has the tools to be a starter. The former San Beda star was an automatic-10 pick, maybe even top 5, in a rookie class that was loaded with talent and potential.
His outstanding display of skills and leadership in his last season in San Beda and his excellent showing in the D-League, where he won a title with Hapee, proved that he is ripe for the PBA.
The Meralco Bolts, who owned two first-round picks, eventually nabbed the 24-year old playmaker with the 7th overall pick. He joined former Ateneo wingman Chris Newsome in a team that badly needed players from every position.
The Bolts at that time, chose rookies who could run the point guard position and show versatility after trading Mike Cortez to the Blackwater Elite. Coach Norman Black’s crew was on the rise as he added a veteran leader in Jimmy Alapag, who was expected to take Amer under his wing. A lot of people also thought that they could even be on the floor together and form a potent backcourt combo.
In Amer’s rookie season, he was given leeway for mistakes. He was a young player and it was known that he would still be hiding in the shadows of the Mighty Mouse. His first conference with Meralco was tough. The team suffered a league-worst 1-10 win-loss card in the All-Filipino.
The Commissioner’s Cup, however, was a different story. A team reinforced by eventual Best Import Awardee Arinze Onuaku turned the tables around. They hooked a semifinals finish as the second seed with an 8-3 record. Coach Black’s troops only got better from there.
Allen Durham led the Bolts to a finals stint in the 2016 Governors’ Cup against crowd-favorite Barangay Ginebra.
Amer was a consistent contributor off the bench. Whenever Coach Black called his number, he made sure that he would provide whatever the team needed – either in scoring or in facilitating. Although taking care of the point duties for most of his career, Amer is also a proven scorer with a crafty midrange game. He didn’t hesitate whenever he had to score for his squad. He can shoot from the perimeter with pull-up jumpers. If the defense allows him to drive down the lane, he can also attack with a floater.
Amer played well in his first Finals series. He provided timely scoring and stiff defense which Ginebra fans didn’t expect from a rookie.
The former SBC standout, in his first year as a pro, might have had a mediocre performance numbers-wise as he posted averages of 6.1 points, 0.8 rebound, 2.0 assists, and 0.5 steal per game. Still, he made impact when it mattered especially in the last two conferences of the league’s 2015-2016 season. And albeit losing in the Governor’s Cup Finals, he definitely made a mark that showed everyone he truly belongs.
Coming into this season, I was hopeful and excited for Amer. With the retirement of Alapag, I felt that it is time for the former to finally unleash his full potential, and oh boy, he proved me right. He averaged close to his rookie numbers in the Philippine Cup. But Amer completely changed the tides in the 2017 Commissioner’s Cup.
He spearheaded the scoring attack among Meralco locals with 16 points, grabbed 5.7 boards, dished out 4.4 dimes, and tallied one steal against only 1.6 turnovers in 34.4 minutes. He turned into an entirely different beast for the Bolts as he became more aggressive on offense. The threat that Coach Black patiently waited for finally woke up.
His excellent performance didn’t go unnoticed. Amer played well enough to earn him a spot in the Mindanao All-Star team.
Things were looking up for the Meralco floor-general. He, then, received a Gilas call-up from Head Coach Chot Reyes because Gilas Cadet Jonathan Grey transferred to Globalport via trade.
The trade may have been one reason for Amer to be selected to Gilas. But I think his rapid improvement made him hard to ignore as one of the best young guards in the country, worthy to play for the National Team.
Fast forward to the Commissioner’s Cup playoffs where they faced sister team TNT KaTropa. I began paying full attention to Amer and the Bolts.
During the series, especially in Games 2 and 3, I was convinced. I could not help but have a grin on my face. Amer is for real. They got knocked out of contention, but what the PBA witnessed is a prolific scorer and a pinpoint passer. He is a high-leveled point-guard. One of the bests in his position; just like a Class-S plane ticket.
Throughout the quarterfinals, He garnered averages of 23.2 points in 53.3% shooting, 4.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 0.5 steal, while turning the ball over only 1.5 times per game.
What I love about his play is his pick-and-roll game. He knows when to pass, when to attack, and when to pull-up for a jumper. He reads it very well, using the right moves to finish at the rim, shoot from the perimeter, or dish out to an open man; whatever is available.
Although he scores a lot, I would still consider him as a pass-first guard because he scores within the flow of the offense; and if Coach Black wants him to. He’s not the fastest and the strongest at his position, but he gets the job done. He is so steady; does not force shots. He facilitates to get the best of his teammates.
Amer will soon be Meralco’s main floor leader and will help the Bolts compete for championships in the years to come. Teams will have to watch films of his games overnight just to slow him down in a playoff series. The star who takes the last shot for the win. The star who makes the right kind of plays in endgames.
If he stays on track, All-star selections will pile up because of his spectacular display of basketball talent. National Team call-ups will not be a surprise anymore. He might even get the nod to start in the international stage where he’ll bring the hammer to foreign players. (Editor’s Note: Amer is part of the Gilas team competing in the SEA Games)
I may sound overrating this kid, but the potential is just too much not to think of him this way. Amer is on his path to greatness. Amer is Meralco’s point guard of the future.
Photos from the PBA Media Bureau
EDITOR’S NOTE: Khyte is a writer for DLSU Sports and Sports Gateway PH. I first interacted with him when he sent me a message asking me for advice on how to craft interview questions for an article he was doing on Des Cheng. He was the first person that came to mind when Chuck, Carlo and I first conceptualized FTS Spotlight.
This article has gone through several versions until we came up with the final article with Carlo’s preface above. Through it all, what shined through was his willingness to learn. He was open-minded and collaborative when it came to changes to his original work.
Khyte hopes to be a great sportswriter that will be able to interview Coach Tim Cone and Mike Breen one day.