The realities of being a professional basketball player are often a rude awakening for young players looking to find a home in the league. A change in the pace of the game at the professional level, the complexities of team systems, and the business side of the game can at times rattle a player’s confidence and set them back. Other times, it can unleash them into greater heights.
Arvin Toletino started out his PBA career with the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings, winning two championships with the team he cheered on in his younger years. Unfortunately, circumstances beyond his control moved the 26-year old from a dream situation with the Gin Kings to a new environment with the NorthPort Batang Pier.
His Batang Pier debut, which came against the Phoenix Fuel Masters, showed some jitters and the effects of having limited practice time with his new team, but the 2020 PBA All-Rookie Team selection wasted no time in making his presence felt. Immediately playing 36 minutes with NorthPort, Tolentino helped guide the Batang Pier to an opening win (and his first with the team) over the Fuel Masters.
Adjustments were evident in his second game when NorthPort took on the Bay Area Dragons. Tolentino nearly helped the Batang Pier pull off the victory against the PBA’s 14th guest team, but came away empty-handed after Myles Powell’s game-winner at the buzzer. Tolentino set a new career-high in points with 22 and did so by making 60 percent of his field goals.
Tolentino’s 19.0 points (on 45.8/46.7/90.0 shooting splits), 8.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.5 steals, and 2.0 blocks through two games has reminded many of the promise that came with a solid high school career in San Beda and college stints with UAAP teams the ADMU Blue Eagles and the FEU Tamaraws. The UAAP Season 77 Rookie of the Year’s steals per game currently lead NorthPort, while his scoring average, assists per game, and blocks per game are second on the team.
The averages could normalize over the passage of time and as teams enhance their defensive approach to Tolentino. Many games are left to be played and it remains to be seen how a full season and a proper training camp will translate. However, the Batang Pier have already figured him heavily into their plans, playing him an average of 38.4 minutes per game, which would be a career-high by a mile. That in itself speaks volumes on how the Batang Pier view Tolentino, who is more than happy to repay the faith and opportunities provided to him by the franchise.
His ability to do a little bit of everything has also helped Tolentino fit in seamlessly so far with NorthPort. His rebounding prowess has given the Batang Pier another body to crash the boards, while his passing ability allows the likes of Bolick and Prince Ibeh to run ahead on the fastbreak or move off-the-ball.
With Tolentino’s play, it begs the question if the Gin Kings are experiencing buyer’s remorse. Of course, it was the price of getting Jamie Malonzo and based on how things are panning out, Tolentino was unfortunately being underutilized in Ginebra. Moreover, the Gin Kings have yet to play a game. Sad as Ginebra fans may be, this is all turning out to be a win-win situation (or not for Gin Kings fans). But let’s wait for the games to be played before making any further (and less emotional) judgements.
Arvin Tolentino can fondly look back at his time with the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings, but his stint with the NorthPort Batang Pier has looked like a land of opportunity just two games in. From a basketball perspective, he has had to grow up quickly given the change in his role, but he has handled it with the mark of a true professional.