Long before he was the multi-titled coach of the San Miguel Beermen, Leo Austria was a fourth-round pick in the PBA's inaugural rookie draft. Only six teams were drafting in 1985 and four of them passed after the first round.
Before this season, teams were allowed to sign rookies from the semi-pro Manila Inter-Commercial Athletic Association (MICAA). The league instituted the draft in an attempt to introduce some parity for first-year players.
League newcomer Shell Azodrin was given the first pick and the Bugbusters selected rugged 6-foot-5 center Sonny Cabatu, who would go on to play for five different teams over 12 seasons.
Cabatu was one of five rookies Shell drafted in that draft, and although he was the top prize, it was Austria who would go on to win Rookie of the Year. He holds the distinction of being the only ROY picked in the fourth round of the draft, the second-to-the last selection overall.
With the PBA's Season 47 rookie draft just around the corner, let's revisit other players who were picked in the second round or later, but went on to produce solid PBA careers.
Dindo Pumaren (1989 draft, 1st pick of 2nd round, 7th overall)
Despite a sterling amateur career that saw him quarterback for the Philippine national team for three years, Pumaren fell to the second round in a loaded 1989 draft bannered by amateur superstars Benjie Paras, Nelson Asaytono and Bong Alvarez. Pumaren would play 692 games over 14 seasons with five teams, winning four titles with Purefoods. He retired third overall in total career assists, behind only Sonny Jaworski and Mon Fernandez.
Ato Agustin (1989 draft, 6th pick of 2nd round, 12th overall)
Picked even lower than Pumaren, Agustin is the only second-round pick to be named MVP. He hardly saw action in his rookie year on a stacked San Miguel team, but was named Most Improved Player in 1991. The following season, Agustin averaged 20.7 points to edge out Nelson Asaytono for the MVP award. He played 12 seasons and won seven titles with SMB and Red Bull, retiring with averages of 14.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.6 assists.
Gerry Esplana (1990 draft, 1st pick of 2nd round, 9th overall)
Not only did Esplana win Rookie of the Year, he had a longer PBA career than any of the eight players picked ahead of him. Esplana joined a Presto Tivoli team that had established veterans Willie Generalao and Onchie Dela Cruz playing his position, but he quickly earned minutes from Coach Jimmy Mariano and was instrumental in helping Presto win the All-Filipino title that year. Esplana later won two more titles with Shell before retiring after the 2002 season, having played 577 games over 13 seasons.
Olsen Racela (1993 draft, 3rd pick of 2nd round, 11th overall)
There were many questions surrounding Racela when he entered the league, foremost of which was his lack of outside shooting. But he made an impact in his rookie season, winning the Mr. Quality Minutes award while playing back-up to Pumaren on a star-studded Purefoods lineup. In 1997, he was traded to San Miguel, where he would play until his retirement in 2011 at age 41. All in all, Racela played 18 seasons and won nine championships while being named to the Mythical First Team twice and Second Team three times. At the time of his retirement he was in the top 10 in career assists and steals.
Peter June Simon (2001 draft, 5th pick of 5th round, 43rd overall)
Simon was a lowly fifth-round pick by Sta. Lucia and wasn't signed to a contract. Instead he played in the Metropolitan Basketball Association and the Philippine Basketball League before Purefoods picked him up as a rookie free agent in 2004. He never left the team until his retirement, playing 15 seasons and all 686 of his career games with the storied franchise, second only to Alvin Patrimonio in franchise history. Simon was never an All-Star or a winner of any individual award, but he was part of eight championship teams and retired with an average of 10.1 points per game.
Cyrus Baguio (2003 draft, 4th pick of 2nd round, 14th overall)
The high-flying Baguio fell to the second round of his rookie class, even though he was projected to be a first-round pick. But he had a longer career than all but two players drafted before him. Baguio was a journeyman for most of his 16-season career, playing for five different teams and winning three titles. A fan favorite, he appeared in 11 All-Star Games and won the slam dunk crown in 2004 despite a listed height of 6-1. Baguio could have played a 17th season, but he declined to join the PBA bubble in 2020 and announced his retirement later that year. For his career he averaged 10.1 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
Ronald Tubid (2003 draft, 6th pick of the 2nd round, 16th overall)
Selected two picks after Baguio by Shell, Tubid also went on to put together a 16-season career and played just 12 games less than Baguio. He was part of nine champion teams, was a co-Finals MVP for Barangay Ginebra in the 2008 Fiesta Conference, and appeared in seven All-Star Games. He also won back-to-back Mr. Quality Minutes awards in 2005 and 2006. Tubid never averaged more than 12.7 points in a season, but he was a valuable rotation piece for the six franchises he played for.
Larry Fonacier (2005 draft, 5th pick of the 2nd round, 14th overall)
Fonacier's stock fell after he suffered an ACL injury in 2004 while playing for Ateneo in the UAAP. He still was barely a year removed from the injury when Red Bull selected him in the second round of the 2005 draft. He became a solid contributor in his rookie season, appearing in 65 games for the Barako and averaging 8.0 points in 21 minutes per contest and was eventually named Rookie of the Year, becoming the first second-rounder since Esplana to win the award. He has won seven titles with Red Bull, Alaska and TNT, and although he sat out the 2020 and 2021 seasons, he hasn't officially retired yet and last saw action for Cavitex in the PBA's 3x3 tournament.