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Nelle, Cansino, Catapusan, Garcia join PBA Draft

The talent pool for the 2024 PBA Draft in July just got a lot deeper.

A handful of notable former collegiate standouts – two of them key rotation pieces for championship-winning rosters in the UAAP – have decided to turn pro and play in Asia’s oldest basketball league.

According to sports agent Charlie Dy of VP Global Management, Evan Nelle, CJ Cansino, CJ Catapusan, and Paul Garcia’s names will be submitted to the league office on Wednesday, June 19, making them available and enticing options for the 12 PBA franchises to add to their respective teams in a matter of weeks.

Nelle needs no introduction. The 26-year-old has the attributes of a lead playmaker for a PBA contender when he reaches the prime of his pro career. The former Red Lion and Green Archer has won in every level, including both NCAA junior’s and senior’s titles, not to mention his recent title odyssey with DLSU last year.

Photo courtesy of: UAAP Media Team

An NBTC and SLAM Rising Stars all-star in his high school days, Nelle has been instrumental in the success of his teams throughout his career. He can manage the offense, lead communication efforts on defense, and hit timely shots when the situation calls for it in a close game. That’s one of the reasons why La Salle succeeded in their late comeback against the favored UP Fighting Maroons for the Season 86 crown.

Cansino was on the Fighting Maroons roster that lost to the Green Archers, but he also has a UAAP championship and three finals appearances under his belt. After winning the UAAP high school MVP for UST, CJ didn’t waste any time transitioning his talents to the college level, securing Rookie of the Year as a freshman and helping lead the Growling Tigers to a Final Four upset victory against UP a season later.

After transferring to Diliman, Cansino immediately made his mark. It was highlighted by his impressive performance on one healthy knee in a critical game three victory against Ateneo. His shot forced overtime, paving the way for the late-game heroics of JD Cagulangan to secure the Maroons their first UAAP title in 36 years and end the winning spree of Tab Baldwin’s mighty Blue Eagles.

At 6-foot-2, the now 24-year-old Cansino is a reliable long-range shooter and finisher in transition. After college he began playing for Iloilo in the MPBL, where he’s currently putting up 15.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.5 steals a contest.

Related: In our ALL-STAR cover story for June, we went “under the hood” with Cansino – including discussions on his exit from UST, his current relationship with former head coach Aldin Ayo, and how he would receive possibly playing for Ayo with Converge in the PBA. Read all about it here.

Catapusan was also part of UP’s Season 84 title-winning roster and was in the line-up for the Maroons’ return to the finals in Season 85, but played sparingly. He’s made a better mark in the MPBL where he’s currently averaging 5.6 points on 45.5% shooting from deep in 17.5 minutes a game. He was responsible for the buzzer-beater which provided Iloilo an upset victory over top-seeded Bacoor City in game one of the first round of the playoffs last October.

Athletic and standing at 6-foot-3, the 26-year-old Catapusan makes for an ideal wing because of his combination of size and speed with the ball on open court. If his shooting can prove to be consistent, he can be valuable to a team.

Like Catapusan, Garcia did not play a lot of minutes for his title-winning squad – Ateneo in Season 85 – and was a tough cut for head coach Tab Baldwin prior to Season 86. In his time as a Blue Eagle, Garcia was well-liked by his teammates and coaches revered his work ethic. He was also instrumental in their road to winning the World University Basketball Series in 2022. The 25-year-old has gained experience in the MPBL and has a reliable tool – his outside shooting – to become a possible mainstay for a PBA team that requires extra floor spacing at the guard rotation.

The early list of PBA draft applicants looks promising, with the likes of Francis Escandor, DJ Mitchell, and CJ Payawal also joining the mix. There is interest among PBA league sources if the likes of Kai Ballungay, Justine Baltazar, and maybe even Dave Ildefonso will also join the annual selection process.

Converge is expected to have the top overall pick in the draft following their disappointing Season 48 campaign, followed by Blackwater.

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