Aaron Black made the most out of all he got from dad Norman

Aaron Black has had to deal with naysayers claiming he would not be where he is if not for his father Norman. PBA Media Bureau

Just to be clear, anything and everything Aaron Black has right now, dad Norman had a hand in it. And we're not just talking about Aaron's starmaking turn for the Meralco Bolts, whose head coach is Norman.

Of course, much of Aaron comes from his father. The former wouldn't be here without the latter in the first place. Everything else, though? That's Aaron, all the way. He knows it. He's adamant about it. Even though many don't see the same.

"I know that's always gonna be there. I knew that the moment he drafted me," he answered when asked about unsubstantiated claims that his spot on Meralco is all because of his familial connections, and not by his own agency. "More recently, I accepted it more. Everybody has an opinion and you can't please everybody. Thankfully, I've been in a mental state lately when I just use it as motivation."

While he's in a good place as of the moment, the younger Black said that early on in his pro career, he couldn't help but hear all the noise that he was only in the league because of his last name. That noise was then turned to max volume when he was recognized as the 2020 PBA Rookie of the Year.

The fact that Aaron put up per game counts of 6.6 points (38.9/34.7/69.2 shooting splits), 3.7 rebounds, and 1.7 steals for a Bolts side with legitimate title aspirations right after getting drafted 18th overall? Apparently, that was all because of Norman. The fact that his all-around game complemented Bolts top gun Chris Newsome's own versatility? Still, they said, because of his legend of a dad who won two championships and two Best Import awards in the PBA.

The thing is, 'Mr. 100%' wasn't supposed to coach the son who followed his footsteps in terms of basketball. He never had, even when the two of them were both in Ateneo de Manila University. Come the rookie selection process two years ago, Meralco had no plans of drafting the next-generation Black -- because they had thought he'd no longer be on the board when their first pick, which was already in the second round, rolled along.

Due to a broken hand right before the combine, however, Aaron's draft stock dropped by a bit. And lo and behold, with the 6th selection in the second round, the Bolts had an unexpected opportunity to say his name out loud. They did just that.

"My dad didn't tell me he was gonna draft me," recalled the younger Black, through chuckles. "Rain or Shine had told my agent they were drafting me at (number) seven of the first round, so it wasn't even a thought for us. Unfortunately, they didn't, and kinabahan na ako. Then Meralco was up, and I was thankful. I was thankful a team, any team, took a chance on me."

And so, Aaron's freefall came to a close when the Bolts -- and their coach who knows him best -- welcomed him with open arms. On draft day, down and down the son went, before his father picked him up, and put him back on his feet. Norman had done so time and again, after all, just like he did at the end of his son's time as a Blue Eagle.

Aaron was far from a standout during his days in Ateneo High School. That didn't change much when he went up a level and became a Blue Eagle -- even in his last two years when Tab Baldwin, a mentor well-known to get the most out of his players, was at the helm.

"Senior year, you don't play, that's a dark time," he narrated, candidly and pointedly, looking back at his 11 minutes per game in his fourth and, eventually final, year in blue and white. "Fortunately, the people around me, my family, my friends, stayed by my side. That was the biggest thing for me."

Black forwent his supposed last year of eligibility for Ateneo before doing skills training in the U.S. He then signed on to play for the Quezon City Capitals and Zamboanga Family's Brand Sardines in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) as well as AMA Online Education in the PBA D-League. It was in those two leagues that he finally found his footing. Slowly but surely, he was shining. Little by little, he was turning into a star.

"No question about it. D-League and MPBL really helped me get to the PBA. I'll be the first to say that," he stated now, referring to his close-to-a-year stints in the semi-pro leagues. "It was just a confidence thing. It was about getting my game going because it's just different when you get to play. Competition in the MPBL and D-League is pretty good, too, so I got to play with guys who are veterans. That experience was big for me."

In particular, Black pointed out that it was only with Quezon City and AMA that he transitioned to the point -- his full-fledged position now in the PBA. When before in Ateneo, he was a two-guard, or even a forward, he was handed the reins to steer the Capitals and Titans as he saw fit.

That was where he finally heard his calling. He was a court general who can take full advantage of his 6-foot-1 height and wider frame to power through traditional point guards.

"I wanna give credit to my coaches in MPBL and D-League. They really helped me play the point guard position because even then, I felt that when I came to the PBA, it'd be more advantageous to play point, being bigger than most," he shared. "Because of coach Vis Valencia and coach Mark Herrera, I got more comfortable. Because of them, I realized I was a point guard."

Fast forward to now and Black is indeed, a point guard -- the heady and steady floor leader who made sure Meralco didn't miss a beat following the trade of erstwhile starter Baser Amer and reliable backup Nards Pinto. In fact, even with the addition of veteran Chris Banchero, it was he who was given the ball and ran with it.

"It wasn't easy. It wasn't easy at all. I'm still learning up to now," he expressed. "Thankfully, I had a lot of guys around me. Chris Newsome, Anjo Caram, they helped me a lot. Then for me, I just wanted to come in and contribute however I could."

While, yes, having a last name like his, of course, had something to do with it, Black nonetheless took full advantage of the golden opportunity he was given. Whether it be expecting no preferential treatment during practices and games, or doing extra work via skills training program Better Basketball and conditioning program Aytona Performance, he is determined to fight for his right to be wearing orange and navy blue.

"Dad and I are really close, and it wasn't a problem at all, having to separate house and work. When it comes to the team, hopefully, we finally get over the hump," he remarked, referring to the Bolts' four runner-up finishes in the last six years. "Meralco, the PBA, everybody understands my dad and I just wanna win. We're both here to win."

It was Norman who have him half of his genes. It was Norman who drafted him. It was Norman who made, and let him stay, as starter. All of those, though, were shots Aaron didn't put to waste, and put, instead, into work.

"It's hard to compare us because he had a season when he averaged 50 points or something," he remarked, with a laugh. "For me, the thing from him I look up to the most are the championships. That's what he'll be remembered for. Hopefully, that's what I'll be remembered for, too."

Yes, Norman Black had a hand in it, but Aaron Black is here -- and here to stay -- because of Aaron Black.