SEVERINO “Nonoy” Baclao’s unexpected feat as this year’s top pick in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) did not surprise his topnotch mentors as they attested to the sheer talent and humility of the 23-year-old standout.

Ateneo coach Norman Black, who won back-to-back titles in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) with Baclao as his defense specialist, congratulated his former ward’s newly-found success as the finest addition for Air 21 Express.

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“It’s great for him and for his family because he can now help them well through his earnings in the PBA. As a man who comes from humble beginnings, it’s good to see him play there. I hope he will treat us if he visits our practice this week,” he said, eliciting laughter from the press.

MANILA. Nonoy Baclao is the second cager from Bacolod City to be drafted first overall in the Philippine Basketball Association after Noli Locsin in 1994. (Contributed photo)

Aside from Black, the man who called the shots for the Philippine Patriots in their successful championship run in the first ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) last February only have the nicest words reserved for Baclao.

“He’s a great player. He’s selfless inside the court. As a coach, I’m very happy that he made it this far,” said mentor Louie Alas, who is also a three-time champion coach for the Letran Knights in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Baclao is the second Bacolod native in 16 years to achieve the illustrious billing after Noli Locsin in 1994 (Ginebra).

The 6-foot-4 forward also followed the same track done by former Blue Eagle members Alejandro Araneta (1991), Rich Alvarez (2004) and Japeth Aguilar (2009).

Baclao bested ex-Ateneo teammate and former UAAP MVP Rabeh Al-Hussaini for the top honors last Sunday, who even felt “insulted” with Air 21’s decision to relegate him to second place.

The 6-foot-7 cager has been tipped to top the draft courtesy of his stellar performance during the rookie camp.

Soaring heights

Baclao had a decorated college ball career before leaping to the pros this week.

He bannered the West Negros University Mustangs to bag the 2005 National University Games (UniGames) crown and the 2006 Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) National Students Championship (Inter-Collegiate) title.

His impressive hard-court display seemed too hard to ignore for Black, who recruited him in 2006 to join the Blue Eagles.

After serving the mandatory one-year residency rule, the lanky Baclao showed his rebounding and shot block skills, but the Eagles failed to avenge their loss to University of Santo Tomas (UST) in the 2006 finals after surrendering to archrival La Salle in the 2007 semifinals.

Ladyluck sided with Ateneo in 2008 when it trounced then defending champion La Salle in the jam-packed finals showdown where Baclao bagged the Finals MVP and Smart Defensive Player of the Year honors.

In 2009, co-captain Baclao teamed up with Al-Hussaini and PBA’s no. 18 pick Jai Reyes (Powerade) to hand the Blue Eagles their first back-to-back UAAP championship since 1988 against University of the East (UE) Red Warriors. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)