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MARK BARROCA HAS TAKEN CENTER STAGE

03:18 PM January 30, 2014

When San Mig Coffee rookie Justin Melton committed two crucial miscues in Game One of the best-of-seven semifinals series of the ongoing Philippine Cup against Barangay Ginebra, there was teammate Mark Barroca to save the day.

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Mark Barroca. It wasn’t too long ago when I was defending him in an article in Rebound magazine after he was cut from Far Eastern University for allegedly committing some shenanigans. Those in the middle felt that he was too reckless. Too much of a razzle-dazzle player. But that was Mark. The turnovers, like it or not, were a part of his game because of the way he played.

He was built for the uptempo game where he threw caution to the wind. And that was why he thrived in Rajko Toroman’s Smart Gilas where he set Asia on fire with his blazing speed and ankle-breaking crossovers. Think Jason Castro during the last FIBA Asia.

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He drove on seven-footers. Danced around opponents like they were slalom cones. In those days, he played like an import. Foreign teams wanted his services.

When Mark was drafted by Shopinas in 2011 and subsequently traded (on draft day) to B-Meg (for Brian Ilad), it was like the former got fleeced. Ilad is not in the league anymore and Barroca has established himself as one of the premier point guards in the PBA.

Initially, I wondered how he’d fit with the walk it up offense of Tim Cone. Playing initially behind Jonas Villanueva and Josh Urbiztondo (and brought in as a replacement for Roger Yap), Barroca is now the only one left from that guard rotation. He’s been handed the keys to run Cone’s offense. And to take big shots.

You might argue that in the triangle there’s no real need for a point guard per se. Hence, PJ Simon and James Yap at times starting in the backcourt. But that’s beside the point. Barroca, whether running the show or raining jumpers; whether starting or coming off the bench, he can get the job done.

He’s been an All-Star twice. He’s been named Player of the Week two weeks running. Then he drills the game winning jumper against Barangay Ginebra. Oh, and he’s a part of two PBA championship teams.

The titles that eluded him in Far Eastern University and the UAAP have come in the pros. And finally, he is getting some deserved recognition.

Truthfully… this couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Here’s a dude who before he exits the locker room would spend time to pray before every game. Here’s a player who would cry at the end of a loss or even a campaign where his team fell short. Here’s a player who we haven’t even seen the best of just yet.

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