When Justin Gutang steps on the floor of the SM Mall of Asia Arena for the 2021 Chooks-to-Go Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League Invitationals later this month, he will no longer be an amateur player.
Even if the National Collegiate Athletic Association allows its student-athletes to join pro leagues through the Games and Amusements Board’s special guest license, Gutang won’t avail of it as he did not enroll in College of Saint Benilde for this term.
“Justin kasi came from the US and from what I know, he didn’t enroll this term,” said Director of the Benilde Center for Sports Development Stephen Fernandez. “Part of the NCAA requirement is to be enrolled. But I know Justin has other plans.”
“Just advised him at the time last year to just prepare for his pro career,” said newly-minted Blazers head coach Charles Tiu. “There was too much uncertainty as to when the league would start. I actually told him that it’s best to just enroll and play one year if it comes before the PBA draft.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think he enrolled and is therefore ineligible now.”
In the two years he spent with the Blazers, the 24-year-old Filipino-American averaged 12.4 points, 6.91 rebounds, 4.26 assists, and 1.14 steals in 35 games played.
But the ongoing pandemic changed his plans.
Early this year, he joined the staff of Skyline to become an assistant coach. And when he got invited to join Blazers assistant coach Carlo Tan in Nueva Ecija, he made sure to not let that opportunity go.
Of course, Gutang, who has been the leading scorer of the Blazers for the past two seasons, will be a big loss to the school.
“Big loss. We recruited him and brought him here,” lamented Tiu.
“Obviously he’s one of my favorite players that’s why I brought him with Mighty Sports before,” Tiu continued as Gutang was part of the Mighty Sports team that won the Dubai International Basketball Tournament back in 2019.
“I think he easily would’ve been a Mythical Five member this season. He’s good enough to play in the PBA right now.”
“Justin has always been competitive. He was a leader and a tough competitor.
“Yun lang because of the pandemic, na-affect tayong lahat. Of course, we are grateful to have had him in our program,” closed Fernandez.