Rookie big man Justine Baltazar is finally showing glimpses of what he’s capable of doing and that could spell added trouble for powerhouse La Salle’s future rivals.
The 6-foot-7 Baltazar, 19, typified the Green Archers’ “Mayhem” defense the most on Wednesday night when he anchored the lane defensively in La Salle’s dominant 100-62 victory over host University of Santo Tomas in the UAAP Season 79 men’s basketball tourney at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The former National U Bullpup star frolicked in the lane, hauling down eight rebounds, six of them on the offensive end, and swatting a game-high five blocks in 12 minutes of play off the bench to the delight of La Salle’s first-year coach Aldin Ayo.
And going up against prized Cameroon import Ben Mbala—day in and day out—is clearly bringing out the best from Baltazar.
“Sa practice pa lang, nahahasa na ako sa kanya. Grabe talaga ‘yung big man na ‘yun,” said Baltazar of the 6-foot-7 Mbala, who rammed in his third straight double-double performance of 18 points and 16 rebounds against the Growling Tigers.
“Nag-i-improve ako kasi dinedepensahan ko si Mbala na malakas talaga. Nakukuha ko ang kumpiyansa sa kanya,” he added.
Having seen how Baltazar does his work in practice, Ayo admitted his rookie center will play a big role in their title campaign this year.
“Sinasabi ko lang sa kanya, be natural and just play your game,” said Ayo. “Magaling talaga ‘yung bata on both ends of the floor. Iniiba niya ‘yung tira ng mga kalaban and during practice, bihira rin siya mag-mintis sa floater niya.”
Baltazar, however, failed to do that as he missed all of his seven field goals from the field, scoring his pair of points from the 15-foot line.
“Pinagdarasal ko kanina sana makabutas na siya. And for sure, dire-diretso na sa kanya ‘yun,” said Ayo. “Although he’s a rookie, he’ll play a big role dito sa campaign namin.”
After failing to make his presence felt in their first two victories, Baltazar he could only get better as the season goes on.
“Talagang sinwerte lang ako ngayon. Lumalabas na ‘yung laro ko talaga,” added the Pampanga native. “Masipag naman kasi ako sa rebounds and blocks. ‘Yun ang pina practice ko talaga.” – By Jerome Lagunzad
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