Palarong Pambansa MVP set to spearhead Batang Gilas

This time one year ago, hardly anybody in mainstream basketball circles knew about 5’10 San Beda playmaker Evan Nelle, but after leading the Red Cubs to the NCAA Season 91 Juniors’ Division crown (where he was named Finals MVP) and leading CALBARZON to the 2016 Palarong Pambansa title (where he made the Mythical Five and was named Tournament MVP), Nelle has turned a lot of heads, including that of Batang Gilas U18 coach Mike Oliver.

In the coming 2016 SEABA U18 Championship in Medan, Indonesia, Nelle will be among coach Oliver’s floor generals along with former UE Red Warrior Fran Yu. Batang Gilas’s collective fate will depend heavily on how effectively Nelle can orchestrate the team’s offensive flow.

“I have to control the tempo, to give the shooters the ball,” says the 17-year-old former De La Salle-Zobel player.

He has had a lot of practice, of course, as his stellar play in the NCAA and Palarong Pambansa has proven. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that his very strong performance this past season opened other doors for his exposure. He was part of the victorious North team in the 2016 NBTC All-Star Game and was also named to Team Punks in the 2016 SLAM Rising Stars Classic. Nelle shone in both, most notably scoring 16 points for Team North, further adding to an already outstanding body of work from 2015-2016.

It’s crazy, though, because, on some level, Nelle wasn’t even supposed to be here. He was recruited from DLSZ to San Beda, but he never made it to the Red Cubs’ NCAA team until unexpectedly breaking into the roster for Season 91.

“Nirecruit ako sa San Beda from Zobel,” he narrates. “Last year, ‘di dapat ako sa NCAA team, but I worked extra hard and played more composed, so I finally got in.”

His NCAA numbers won’t jump out at you — 8.9 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 2.3 steals per outing — but he’s the type of player who thrives in the spotlight and steps up when it counts the most.

In the championship-clinching Game 3 win by San Beda over the upstart Arellano Braves, Nelle dropped 13 markers, hauled down 8 boards, handed out 3 dimes, stole the ball twice, and recorded 2 blocks as the Red Cubs prevailed, 70-61.

Not bad for an NCAA rookie, eh?

And to think he has two more years of eligibility to boot!

Before the curtains are raised on Season 92, though, Nelle’s main target is to help Batang Gilas rule SEABA and make a splash in the FIBA Asia U18 Championship later this year in Iran.

Despite the fact he never expected to be called up for national duty, he is determined to lead the team in making its mark.

“I just want to do good and play well every game,” he says. “I want to play composed, and I also see this as preparation for the coming NCAA season.”

It also helps, of course, that other former Red Cubs inspired him to make it this far.

“It feels surreal kasi dream ko ‘to dati pa,” shares Nelle. “I used to see other Bedans like Andrei Caracut, Radge Tongco, and Arvin Tolentino play for Batang Gilas, and I wanted to be like them.”

Now he has his chance. Evan Nelle will certainly be among Batang Gilas’s main cogs in their SEABA campaign, and if the team manages to rule the competition, there’s hardly any doubt that Nelle will have played a big part in that success.

Needless to say, a lot has happened to this kid in the space of less than twelve months, but even if he has attained the level of blue chip prospect, Nelle will surely continue to soar to even greater heights in the years to come. – By Enzo Flojo

Follow this writer on Twitter: @hoopnut

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