No photo Is Josh for real?
SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) Updated December 18, 2009 12:00 AM

For someone who was ignored in the PBA draft last August, unheralded point guard Josh Urbiztondo plays with no chip on his shoulder. The 5-10 1/2 “Fireball” – his new moniker – has worked his way to a starting job with Sta. Lucia Realty and coach Boyet Fernandez likes the adjustment just fine.

Urbiztondo, 26, has led the Realtors to back-to-back wins over Coca-Cola, 98-92, and Barangay Ginebra, 93-88, with consecutive 22-point explosions. In those two games, the San Francisco-born spitfire hit a combined 10-of-20 triples and 4-of-4 free throws. What’s remarkable is he shot a lofty 53 percent from the floor in that stretch – a stat that doesn’t seem right for a rookie and an undrafted free agent.

But make no mistake about it, Urbiztondo is making believers out of skeptics. And just in case you missed it, he scored a career-high 24 points in Sta. Lucia’s win over Burger King, 101-93, last Oct. 30.

What Urbiztondo brings to the table is an infectious enthusiasm that appears to even lift veteran Marlou Aquino’s spirits. The Skyscraper is now relegated to second-string status and plays marginal minutes but in the last two Sta. Lucia games, he has attacked the rim with impunity, scoring three dunks in the process.

Urbiztondo is such a speedster that it’s difficult to anticipate what he’s going to do on the floor. Not even Johnny Abarrientos could figure him out in their match-up at the Araneta Coliseum last Wednesday. The Flying A desperately tried to keep in step with Urbiztondo and couldn’t, finishing the contest with five personals. Abarrientos, the league’s oldest player at 39, collected only five points on 2-of-10 from the field in 26 minutes, four less than Urbiztondo’s log.

Urbiztondo blitzed Ginebra by scoring 10 of his 22 points in the decisive fourth period. He started the quarter with two triples and sealed the Kings’ fate by draining four straight free throws down the stretch.

* * * *

Suddenly, Sta. Lucia is more fun to watch because Urbiztondo makes the team unpredictable. He steps on the gas and accelerates when you think the Realtors are slowing down to set up Kelly Williams. He pulls up for a jumper when you think Bitoy Omolon is going backdoor. And he dishes off to a wide-open Joseph Yeo when you think he’s penetrating to the basket.

With Urbiztondo’s emergence, Fernandez has the luxury of playing Ryan Reyes at the two-spot. If Fernandez wants to play a three-guard formation, he brings in Yeo to the mix with Reyes sliding to small forward. Or another combination is Omolon at three with Urbiztondo and Reyes in the backcourt. Fernandez can switch his players depending on what he wants offensively or defensively. The constant in the shuffle is Urbiztondo who because of his scrappy aggression, was voted best defensive player in the PBL in 2007.

Curiously, Urbiztondo isn’t the only undrafted player in the Sta. Lucia cast. Dennis Daa, who is contributing quality minutes this conference, was snubbed in the 2006 draft. Daa now starts at center for Fernandez and has scored in twin digits in six of his 12 outings so far this conference.

Daa, 30, was among 35 players who were left out in the cold during the draft. Others who were ignored that year included Robert Sanz, Chico Lanete, Philip Butel, Al Vergara, Don Dulay, Chad Alonzo, Jonathan Aldave, Erick Rodriguez and Ronnie Bughao – all of whom later played in the PBA.

By the way, Williams was the top draft pick in 2006 and Yeo was the third overall choice. Two other Realtors were selected – Gabby Espinas (fifth overall) and Chris Pacana (15th overall). The draft brought in stars Arwind Santos and L. A. Tenorio to the league. Players who were picked but are no longer in the PBA are Mark Andaya, Boyet Bautista, Abby Santos, Mark Magsumbol, Manuel Caceres, Michael Gavino, Ronjay Enrile, Christian Luanzon and Ollan Omiping. Of the undrafted players, only four remain in PBA rosters – Daa, Lanete, Dulay and Alonzo.

Dulay, 29, broke out of his shell as he scored a career-high 20 points in Rain Or Shine’s monumental 86-81 upset over league leader Alaska last Nov. 13. The 5-8 guard from El Camino College is a full-blooded Filipino although he was born in the US. Urbiztondo, in contrast, has an American mother Gail Doherty and a Filipino father David.

Dulay is on his third season with Rain Or Shine and will long be remembered for his pivotal role in dealing Alaska its first and only setback this season.

In the 2007 draft, the ignored players who later saw action in the PBA were Reed Juntilla, Chris Baluyot, Francis Barcellano and Jay-R Aquino – none of whom is in an active list today.

In the 2008 draft, the “unchosen” players who eventually suited up in the pros were Mark Yee, Nat Cruz and Lawrence Bonus. Only Yee remains in the PBA this season. The “chosen” players no longer in the league are Kelvin Gregorio, Pocholo Villanueva, Jonathan Fernandez, Mark Anthony Cuevas and Christian Cabatu.

The moral of this story is if you work hard and you’re determined to succeed, you will eventually be rewarded. Another lesson is you must learn to accept the realities of life, no matter how harsh, and move on to reachable goals if the obstacles in attaining your first objective are impossible to hurdle.

For sure, there is a lot to learn from the experience of Urbiztondo, Dulay and those who have risen from the ranks of the “abandonados.”

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