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Ilagan proving that he belongs in PBA despite 5-7 stature, beams Cariaso

As the old saying goes, you reap what you saw.

Alaska head coach Jeff Cariaso said it was an easy decision to give RK Ilagan the ball in the final seconds of their PBA Governors’ Cup face-off with Meralco. The rookie deserves as much because of the work he’s been putting in.

The 5-foot-7 playmaker had the task of winning it for the Aces and did not disappoint. He swished in the cold-blooded pull-up jumper just inside the three-point line to beat the buzzer for the 94-93 victory.

“I think when you work as hard as RK does, when you put in the work as hard as RK does, he deserves the opportunity,” said the cager turned mentor moments after the thrilling encounter at the Ynares Center in Antipolo.

Cariaso said that he felt the need to reward the young gun after his fine play versus Terrafirma last February 19. There, he had four points, four rebounds, and two assists while Alaska came from 20 down and won, 102-97.

“Nag-simula ‘yun two games ago where I think he was phenomenal against Terrafirma,” he said. “He was the one who helped us get back in that game.

“And I just felt that slowly, he needs an opportunity to play.”

But really, it’s his work ethic that earned him the team’s trust.

“He’s really earned the trust. RK comes in and has a tremendous work ethic,” Cariaso said.

“”Yung nagustuhan namin as a staff with him is no matter what happens, he comes in ready and he’s working.

“So even if he didn’t play the night before or hindi siya nakakapaglaro, his work ethic is the same. Hindi nagbabago. He’s always preparing and making himself, preparing himself for games like this,” he added.

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And part of what he works on are shots like that game-winner.

“That’s a shot RK works on in practice every day so I didn’t have a problem with him taking that shot,” said Cariaso. “I knew he was going to be able to get a shot off around the free throw line area, if not a little higher.”

That big shot capped off a solid performance for Ilagan, who finished with 11 points on a 4-of-7 clip to set his PBA career-high. He also collected three rebounds and an assist in over 20 minutes of play.

Cariaso lauded how the former San Sebastian star has been showing that he deserves to be in the big league. Ilagan was the 31st overall pick by the Uytengsu-owned franchise in the 2021 Rookie Draft.

“It was easy to trust him. He’s a natural point guard. He’s a kid who has a chip on his shoulder. Alam naman natin that he wasn’t drafted high so a lot of teams passed up on him,” he said.

“So, he’s proving each and every day why he deserves to be in the PBA.”

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Written By

Oftentimes on the sidelines. Forever a student of the game. Morayta-bred.

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