Simply receiving a nomination for the PBA Outstanding Rookie commendation already feels like winning the award for Arvin Tolentino.
The Ginebra freshman is a candidate for the said honors handed out in lieu of the usual Rookie of the Year citation. This shortened season, the league is handing out special awards due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Tolentino is vying for the prize along with Meralco gunner Aaron Black; Alaska slotman – and fellow FEU Tamaraw – Barkley Eboña; Roosevelt Adams of Terrafirma; and Magnolia’s Aris Dionisio,
“Parang panalo ka na eh, nominated ka pa lang.
“Kumbaga, isa ka na sa top rookies. Masaya,” he told Tiebreaker Times. “Malaking bagay rin ‘yun, being a nominee for the Outstanding Rookie, kasi ibig sabihin noon, nakapag-perform ako ng maayos, naka-tulong ako sa team, and nasuklian ko ‘yung tiwala ng mga coaches and ng teammates ko.”
While being in the running is already a feat in itself, actually winning the award is a different story. And for Tolentino, that would mean plenty for him, since it is a citation you can only earn once in the pros.
“Big accomplishment ‘yun para sa akin. Isang beses ka lang naman magiging rookie eh.
“So you only get one chance to get ‘yung Outstanding Rookie. Hindi na mauulit ‘to,” said the Gin Kings’ 10th pick in the 2019 regular draft.
Winning such an award, though, is nothing new for the sweet-shooting forward from Angono, Rizal. He was hailed as the UAAP Season 74 Rookie of the Year when he was still with Ateneo de Manila University.
Now, he has a shot to win one in the pros, and join a decorated group of Ginebra players who copped top rookie honors – Greg Slaughter, Mark Caguioa, Marlou Aquino, Dondon Ampalayo, and Willie Generalao.
Even prior to the season, Ginebra head coach Tim Cone spoke highly of Tolentino. And the latter didn’t disappoint, repaying his coach’s trust by delivering whenever he checked onto the court.
That was evident in Game One of the Philippine Cup Finals versus TNT. His lay-up with five seconds left helped the Gin Kings extend the match into overtime, and eventually bag the 100-94 win.
The Barangay then went on to win the best-of-seven series in five games to cop their first Perpetual Trophy in 13 long years.
For Tolentino, it helped for a young player like him to gain the trust of the PBA’s winningest mentor, who now has 23 championships under his belt following their conquest of the bubble.
“For him to trust me na gan’un kaagad, sa sarili ko, nadadagdagan ‘yung kumpiyansa ko,” offered the 25-year-old, who finished with a career-high 14 point–spiked by two triples – in that Finals opener.
“Masarap sa feeling. Ang saya, kasi pinagkatiwalaan ako ni Coach and then nakapag-perform ako ng maayos. Nasuklian ko ‘yung tiwala niya.”
Tolentino, no doubt, proved in his first year that he belongs in the league. But he feels far from satisfied with his performances, so he’s locked his sights on improving his game.
“For me, it’s always about improving every day. Though maganda ‘yung inilaro ko nung rookie year ko, I cannot be satisfied,” he said. “Kasi ‘di ba, it’s never a perfect game, marami pang pwedeng i-improve.
“Kumbaga, marami pang kakaining bigas. So, ‘yun ‘yung mentality ko: it’s always to improve every day, every game, every season. So, the work will never stop for me.”