It’s that time of the year again! But before you start to worry about all the homework and studying you have to do, read up and get to know these four incoming Grade 10 ball players of the Ateneo de Manila High School. You’ll probably be seeing them on the UAAP court sooner rather than later!
1) Ralph Matthew O. Escalona – Point Guard
Ralph Escalona, more fondly known as “Rap” or “Rappy” by his friends, is the kind of player that epitomizes Filipino basketball. Like most Filipinos, he is short in stature, but what he lacks in height, he makes up for with heart. He gives his 100% effort in every game, and is definitely one of the energy guys you can count on. What he does may not always show up on the stat sheet, but his hustle, solid defense, and willingness to do the dirty work are definitely valued contributions to his team.
2) Romulo Victor E. Berjay – Center/Forward
Standing at well over six feet tall RV, as he prefers to be called, is definitely the big man on campus for his batch. (FYI: I’m 6’2 and he’s already taller than me!) Despite his intimidating size however, he has a fun-loving and relaxed demeanor about him, both on and off the court. He’s quite agile for a big man, and he’s also got a soft touch around the rim and from the mid-range. But don’t be fooled, he’s more than capable of banging bodies and playing tough from inside the paint. In the future, RV can definitely be a tower Ateneo can lean upon for solid production from the inside.
3) Sean Dave G. Ildefonso – Guard/Forward
That name sound familiar? You’ve probably guessed it by now. Dave is in fact one of the sons of former PBA MVP Danny Ildefonso. Make no mistake about it, he plans to live up to the expectations of his family name, and then some. Heading into this school year, Dave is already coming into his own as a player, showing great versatility at his position. With his height and quickness, he’ll surely be a tough matchup for opposing guards and forwards in the seasons to come.
4) Samjosef R. Belangel – Point Guard
Probably the most popular of the group, SJ Belangel burst onto the local media scene when an article came out with none other than James Yap praising him, saying he’s the next big talent to come from the province of Bacolod. Clearly, the praise of Yap did not go unwarranted, as SJ took the lead in captaining the Gilas team to a championship in the latest SEABA U16 tournament. He’s got a natural feel for the game, and already has a mature style of play at such a young age. Simply put, good things happen when he’s got the basketball in his hands.
With these young stars on the rise in the juniors ranks, things are definitely looking up for Ateneo, as well as Philippine basketball. After their stint with the SEABA U16 Gilas team, I was able to ask them some questions, in order to get to know them a little bit better. Here’s what they had to say:
HB: Who or what inspired you to get started with basketball?
Rap: “The man who really inspired me to play basketball is my cousin Macky Escalona. At the age of 6, kuya Macky told me to join basketball clubs. From there, I started love the game and kept going with hard work.“
RV: “No one really inspired me to play the sport. My dad just gave us the freedom to play any sport (I started with football). I guess I fell in love with the game as I grew up.“
SJ: “My father inspired me to play basketball. I would be with him in his basketball games while he was playing and even when he was already coaching. He would always motivate and maximize each of our potentials to be the best we could be.“
HB: Were there any struggles or obstacles that you faced, which made it difficult? How did you overcome these difficulties?
SJ: “Yes, there were many struggles/obstacles. I want to play my best for the ADMU Eaglets and the RP Batang Gilas, but I also know I should balance my studies along with my game. My parents and the school expect me to strive well in both. I overcame these difficulties by asking for God’s help, and just staying focused on what is at hand. My family and the Ateneo community also continue to help me. I obey what my coaches, teachers, and my parents teach me. With God and great people surrounding me, I could do and survive all these hardships.“
RV: “I faced a lot of difficulties in my career. Like being cut from a team, or being knocked out of a big league. I overcame these by telling myself to always bounce back and comeback stronger.“
Dave: “The hardest struggle that I faced was changing my position from center to shooting guard or small forward, but I overcame these difficulties through hard work, training, and encouragement from my family.“
HB: When you first started playing basketball, did you ever dream of playing for the Philippines? What does it mean for you that you got selected to the SEABA Gilas roster?
Dave: “Of course, It’s every athlete’s dream to be able to represent their country. It meant so much to me because this will be a big stepping stone in my career, and it also helped me realize that I am so blessed.“
Rap: “I feel very very blessed because of the fact that I am representing my country. The feeling of standing and singing the national anthem feels like I’m in heaven. Parang unexplainable talaga yung feeling.“
RV: “When I first started playing, I didn’t really think about playing for a team, or representing a country. I just played because I loved the sport. But it means a lot to be part of the Batang Gilas Team. To actually say that you have served the country means a lot.“
SJ: “I never dreamed of playing basketball for my country. But my father bought me a Gilas jersey before, not knowing I would truly wear it in the future. It is a great honor to be selected in the SEABA Gilas roster. Not a lot of kids would have this God given opportunity to represent your country. It is one of my great achievements in my basketball life.“
HB: What can we expect from you moving forward in your basketball career? What kind of player do you want people to remember you as?
RV: “You can expect a player who does not give up, and will not back down. I want people to remember me as a guy who possess mental toughness and is a team player.“
SJ: “You can expect me to always play my very best, whether in practice, or a real game, or with the RP team. For my basketball career? Well, I don’t think of that so much yet. I just trust God of what He plans for my life and my future. As of the present, I just want to concentrate on my Ateneo studies and continue to enjoy playing basketball and thanking God always for the talent He has given me.“
Dave: “You can expect that this will not be the last time you will see me, and I promise to be better and be more humble in the times of my success, and be positive in the times of my failures. I want people to remember me as the player who wasn’t really good at first but with hard work and faith in God, improved and became successful.“
Rap: “I want people to remember me as someone who could defend and contribute to the team. Even given limited playing time, I’m willing to rebound and dive for the ball. On the bench, I will be cheering my teammates, and this gives me the great feeling that I have done my part.“