Uninspiring as the 2019 PBA Draft turned out to be, it still produced quite a few tantalizing talents, fronted by eventual Rookie of the Year Aaron Black.
With all sights set on the likes of Roosevelt Adams and Mike Ayonayon – as well as Gilas Pilipinas special draftees Isaac Go, Rey Suerte, Allyn Bulanadi, and Nieto twins Matt and Mike, of course – Black was some sort of an unknown quantity, especially after an undistinguished career in Ateneo de Manila University.
Come his time in the PBA, however, he emerged as a pleasant surprise, posting per game counts of 6.6 points (38.9/34.7/69.2 shooting splits), 3.7 rebounds, and 1.7 steals , all while being a key contributor in Meralco’s semifinals finish.
That season’s top rookie kept at it for his sophomore encore, with averages of 8.5 points (39.8/27.1/65.1 splits) 3.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. He steadied the point guard position for the Bolts after Baser Amer’s trade and Nards Pinto’s signing elsewhere, and for all his efforts, was a legitimate contender for Most Improved Player.
Rookie of the Year. Most Improved Player finalist. Starter for a championship hopeful. Not bad, not bad at all for the 18th overall pick of his draft.
“It’s always a blessing to be considered. I’m appreciative of all that,” he expressed. “Just being considered, it’s already a big thing. I came into the league with no expectations on me, especially after my last year in Ateneo.”
Indeed, in his final season as a Blue Eagle, Black struggled to find the floor under Tab Baldwin, who is well-regarded to have a knack in guiding his players to be the best versions of themselves. While the two sides tried their darndest to make it work, somehow, some way, it just wasn’t meant to be, and the 6-foot-1 guard wound up his collegiate career with 4.7-point, 3.2-rebound, 1.2-assist, and 11.0-minute norms.
“Senior year, you don’t play, that’s a dark time,” recalled Black, letting his guard down by a bit. “For me, different coaches just have different systems. That’s no disrespect. That’s just what happens.
“I’m not the only player to come out of college not playing much, and then playing much better in the PBA.”
Make no mistake, the son of multiple-time champion Norman Black bears no ill will towards Baldwin. While they haven’t seen each other in person going on two years now, the former nonetheless ultimately appreciates his time under the latter.
“We were still winning. Can’t complain about that. I have no complaints at all,” he exclaimed, talking about his fourth and final season as a Blue Eagle when they won the first of the school’s three-peat.
“It was just that the whole experience taught me to be patient. God’s plan is his plan, not yours. So just keep working, just keep believing in yourself.”
All the minutes he didn’t get in Ateneo, Black just transposed elsewhere. In particular, he went out of his way to better himself away from team practices and live games.
He can thank Better Basketball, for skills training, and Aytona Performance, for conditioning, for that. And actually, he does.
“Better Basketball and Aytona Performance helped me a lot. From tweaking certain things in my game to keeping me healthy, they’ve been big for me,” he detailed.
“I’m the type of person who gets confidence from my work. And I get that from them.”
Aaron Black didn’t necessarily stand out when he was a Blue Eaglet and then a Blue Eagle. He was a multiple-time champion, though, and he has always had genes that came from a legendary player who won two championships and two Best Import awards in the PBA. He just needed another shot, and he never let up working towards it.
It finally came when Meralco took him with the sixth selection in the second round. Better late than never. Better here than nowhere. The lights are on now. The dark times are over.
The second game of each PBA gameday is live-streamed on SMART Sports.