May 13 ------ TOP prospect Justine Baltazar has pulled out of the PBA Rookie Draft at the last minute to take up an offer to play in the Japan B.League. PBA commissioner Willie Marcial confirmed on Thursday that Baltazar's camp has sent word that the former La Salle star is taking his name out of the draft pool, citing an opportunity to head overseas. "Kausap ko yung camp niya at nagpadala din ng letter ngayon na hindi siya makakasama sa draft," said Marcial. "Yeah nag-withdraw siya. May letter na binigay sa atin na pi-normal niya na wini-withdraw niya yung application niya for this year."
The commissioner discussed the situation of Baltazar before the league Board via zoom meeting while the final day of the Draft Combine was ongoing at the Gatorade Hoops Center in Mandaluyong City. A lucrative offer in Japan was the main reason cited for the withdrawal of Baltazar, who was considered a Top 3 prospect in this year's draft. "Sabi nila 'Com puwede ba one year muna kami sa Japan. Tapos babalik kami.' Sabi ko ok lang, pinapayagan namin," Marcial related.
Marcial added the Baltazar camp though, couldn't commit either if he can already be available for the draft by next year especially if he's offered an extension contract by his mother team in Japan. "Sabi ko para hindi maipit yung bata, mag-Japan muna siya tapos tsaka siya bumalik pag OK na talaga siya," said the commissioner. "At least naging fair naman siya."
Talk about the big man out of La Salle withdrawing from the May 15 event at Robinsons Place Manila was already going around on Thursday during the second day of the Draft Combine. Baltazar was already no-show during the two-day event.
The 24-year-old Baltazar apparently was reluctant to join this year's draft from the star as he submitted his application at the final hour before Saturday's deadline.
The 6-foot-7 forward from Pampanga served as the leader of a rebuilding La Salle squad under Derick Pumaren, leading from the front as the Archers returned to the Final Four for the first time since 2017. He posted averages of 12.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.0 steal, and 1.0 block as he carried La Salle to a No. 3 seed before falling to the UP Maroons in the Final Four stage. The PBA is set to prune down and finalized the qualified rookies for this year's draft on Friday.