Uncertainty surrounded the Converge FiberXers in their buildup towards PBA Season 47. As the franchise that was once known as the Alaska Aces began their transition into a new chapter, questions as to whether the team would be taken apart or kept as a whole eventually transitioned to who will stay and who will go.
Those concerns continued to loom large as the months turned into weeks and the weeks turned into days as the FiberXers only recently signed rookie Tyrus Hill and veteran Maverick Ahanmisi. They also traded Robbie Herndon to the San Miguel Beermen after signing him to an extension. Meanwhile, Abu Tratter has yet to re-sign with Converge, a predicament that would have left a major a hole in the FiberXers’ frontcourt.
That was, until Justin Arana came into the picture.
Selected fourth overall by Converge in the PBA Season 47 Draft, the FiberXers gambled on Arana in the same way Arana made a bet on himself by transferring from UST to Arellano University back in 2017. The move to Arellano proved to be a great one, as he became a two-time NCAA Defensive Player of the Year and emerged as one of the best big men in the collegiate ranks.
Arana’s averages of 8.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.7 blocks through three games in the 2022 Honda PBA Philippine Cup take on a different meaning when you consider he had to match up against the likes of the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters’ Beau Belga, the Magnolia Timplados Hotshots’ Calvin Abueva and Ian Sanggalang, and TNT Tropang Giga’s JP Erram, Troy Rosario, and Kelly Williams. The 23-year old has handled himself well that even hardened veterans like Abueva and Belga have had nothing but praise for the former Arellano Chief.
All of Converge’s losses so far have been by only one score, with the latest one being an 86-83 loss to the Tropang Giga. Unfortunately, Arana fouled out with less than a minute left in the game and finished with nine points, eight rebounds, and two blocks in the loss.
The FiberXers held a slim 81-79 lead in the final 39 seconds of the game, only to see Jayson Castro turn in another vintage performance that helped TNT snatch the win from Converge. Arana’s presence may or may not have changed the outcome, but he certainly would have figured in the crucial stretches of the game, which will only benefit his development in the long run.
Staying out of foul trouble will be crucial moving forward, especially as Arana navigates through his first PBA season. More opportunities on the court will translate into major strides and some teaching moments, all of which won’t faze the Bicol native considering the journey he has so far gone on in his basketball career.
Arana has so far been able to withstand the physicality and he should set his sights on being able to defend far more skilled players. Strength can only do so much especially when skill takes over. Being adept at this end will also help him avoid foul trouble and stay on the court longer.
Offensively, Arana can diversify his game by extending his range. Developing a 3-point shot may be too much of an ask at least for this season, but a respectable midrange jumper will change how teams will defend him.
Taken together, steady progress from Arana will only make FiberXers head coach Jeffrey Cariaso trust him more, especially in crunch time situations. Having a reliable big man down low also makes things easier for the likes of Ahanmisi, Jeron Teng, and RK Ilagan, with made shots for them opening up things inside, in turn letting Arana pounce.
The Converge FiberXers knew that they were getting a foundational piece in Justin Arana when they selected him in the PBA Season 47 Draft and his play this early into the 2022 PBA Philippine Cup and the respect he earned among his tenured peers has validated that choice. There remains to be a lot of basketball played, but it’s fair to say that the gamble paid off this early.