It could’ve finally been the fairytale ending Arvin Tolentino was always looking for.
The game was tied, 75-75, with 8.5 seconds remaining with the FEU Tamaraws inbounding the basketball. It was a do or die between FEU and the Ateneo Blue Eagles, the winner moving forward onto the UAAP Season 80 Finals versus the De La Salle Green Archers.
For Arvin, however, it meant more than just making it to the UAAP Finals for the first time in his career. It also meant he had the chance to knock off his former school. In the eyes of some fans, revenge against the program that benched him over the course of the sophomore year. In short, it was his chance to tell Ateneo, “Ito nga pala yung nawala sa inyo,” like a bitter ex-girlfriend to his boyfriend.
As the Tamaraws inbounded the ball, it wound up with Arvin in the right elbow. Matched up against him was the bigger, but slower Isaac Go. He had the speed advantage between the two of them, and he recognized this. He pulled back towards the right wing, ready to set up his patented crossover dribble. He swung, left to right, and all he needed to do was pull up.
The fairytale ending was nearing itself, until it didn’t.
The ball slipped out of his hands. At the same time, it felt like other things slipped out as well. The fairytale ending we all thought he had. The chance at revenge versus his former school. Most importantly, Arvin himself, felt like he slipped. And while he was down, instead of helping him up, people mocked him on social media to the brim.
Benta, King Eagle, Spy ng Ateneo, Mariano
It felt like the world was crashing before his very eyes. It was easy to picture it, him alone, facing this battle while others surrounded him with endless insults. Reality was, he wasn’t alone. There was someone by his side, ready to comfort him as he faced this new battle.
“After the game, mas ako pa yung affected,” said Brandy Kramer, Arvin’s longtime girlfriend. “Instinct mo na, tatanggol mo yung boyfriend mo eh.”
Ever since he was with the Blue Eagles, Brandy’s been there ready to support Arvin in everything that he did. Even now where he was sporting the Green and Gold rather than the Blue and White, the support never wavered. In fact, you could even say it grew even more.
However, during this time when Arvin was facing immense public pressure because of his blunder, it was a little different.
“Actually mahirap. I was not here at that time. I was in Malaysia for training,” said Brandy. Arvin, like any good boyfriend, understood this was how things were at that time. But Brandy, being the good girlfriend that she was, still felt bad, and was worried she wasn’t there to comfort him in person.
“Ako, I felt bad din na wala ako for him.”
For the meantime, Arvin had to hold it all in. Whatever emotions he had at that time, had to be kept in check as he waited for his girlfriend to come home. He didn’t go on social media as much for the meantime, it wouldn’t have done him any good to go through a tweet accusing him of selling games.
Here’s the thing, however; Girlfriends have this magical power. They’re able to push their boyfriends to show them who they truly are, whether this be for better or for worse.
On the other hand, guys have this bad tendency of trying to hold things in to look tough. In a meme, the dog sitting down while the room is burning down, while saying, “This is fine.” That was Arvin as Brandy was in Malaysia for training. But, when he finally got to see the love of his life, he simply couldn’t hold is back anymore. After all, as mighty as he may seem to be, he is still human after all.
“Until after a few days lang, umuwi na ako dito, dun na siya naglabas ng emotion niya,” said Brandy. “He really (felt) bad. Umiiyak na siya.”
What Arvin was going through at that time, was a whirlwind to say the least. At the end of the day, it boiled down to the moment. He could have won the game for the Tamaraws, but instead, he let it slip. It wasn’t even that he missed a shot. It was because he wasn’t able to take one in the first place. He lost his chance, and it haunted him endlessly.
“Everytime naiisip ko yun, nagkakaroon ako ng doubts sa sarili ko,” shared Arvin. This wasn’t the Arvin Tolentino we had grown accustomed to seeing. He was in tears, eyes filled with sadness, while doubting oneself.
This didn’t feel like the same guy who boldly said after a loss versus La Salle, “Di naman sa pagmamayabang, but I was born to score.” We felt it, Arvin himself felt it in that moment of vulnerability. At that time, while he continued to pour out all of his emotions, he had no clear idea yet of how to move forward. But deep inside, he was sure of one thing.
“Babawi ako next year. The next time I will take this shot, I will make it,” he told Brandy.
The thing with learning is, in order for you to truly say that you’ve become better from an experience, things have to change. As Season 81 slowly rolled along, he came in with an attitude he described in two words: Westbrook Mentality.
It was difficult to imagine Arvin smashing down the ball like how Brodie would do so. That wasn’t what he meant though, by having a “Westbrook Mentality”.
“Siyempre I have to be more aggressive. Every time I do that, contagious,” said Arvin.
He understood the situation he was facing at that time. It was his last year in the UAAP, and this was arguably FEU’s best shot at winning the championship after losing the last two seasons. He was one of the seniors now, a leader by all accounts.
“As one of the leaders, as one of the seniors, I have to guide my teammates,” stated Tolentino. “If they see me doing that (Westbrook Mentality), especially on defense, siyempre mahahawa sila.”
This is especially true when you consider who Arvin is as a person. Coming out of High School, he was already branded by many as the Big Chill. He was slow. The way he walked, the way he spoke to you, even his crossover looked slow in real time.
On that note, an Arvin Tolentino who dove for loose balls, played with more zip to his step was new not only for Arvin himself but even his teammates. But if it would lead to good results, then why not right?
it started out well for Arvin over the course of the season, as he was looking a lot like the Top Five player we all expected him to be coming out of High School. There was definitely an added burst of aggression to the way he played, and it looked like it was reaching its peak versus the Adamson Soaring Falcons in the first round.
No one in the Soaring Falcons could do anything against him. Simon Camacho, as pesky as he was, did not have the lateral speed and strength to contain Arvin’s drives. Vince Magbuhos, Sean Manganti, no one could slow him down as he cooked Adamson to the tune of 19 points over the course of 18 minutes. It looked like a moment for Tolentino, where he could prove to the rest of the country the true elite talent that he was. However, things went by all too fast during the middle of the fourth quarter.
As Adamson successfully executed its full-court press versus FEU, Sean Manganti suddenly found himself dribbling the ball. Arvin was in front of Manganti, and in true Westbrook Mentality fashion, he chased for it. There was a problem however. Next thing he knew, Manganti was down, the refs had their right hands holding their left wrists, signifying an unsportsmanlike foul.
Arvin himself knew this, as he raised his hand, one finger up in the air. But in a surprising turn of events, the referees upgraded the foul to a disqualifying one, effectively throwing Arvin out of the game.
Then it happened again the next game he played, versus the UST Growling Tigers as he hit Zach Huang accidentally with less than 30 seconds left on the clock. All Arvin had to do was foul. Instead, he wound up hitting Zach on the head while chasing for the basketball, causing the referees to throw Arvin out of the playing court once again.
FEU fans couldn’t help but mutter, “Shit. Not again.” Brandy couldn’t help but ask her herself, “What’s happening?” This wasn’t the fairytale ending they wanted from Arvin’s collegiate career. Instead, what they were getting were names and insults worse than what Arvin had received a couple of months ago versus Ateneo.
Dirty player. Walang modo.
Was this who Arvin Tolentino truly was?
The moment Arvin came out of the dugout after their game versus UST, he was understandably downtrodden, sporting a straight face that was filled with disappointment. Disappointment at the call, at what was happening, but more importantly, at himself.
A player sporting a straight face after any loss is understandable. But over the course of Season 81, Arvin looked angrier than how he usually was. He was talking more trash. When games got physical, he’d hit back against defenders. It wasn’t just fans noticing this, even someone from FEU noticed this as well.
“Don’t lose yung sarili mo,” Sir Ed of the FEU Tamaraws told Arvin. The topic of identity had been consistent with Arvin over the course of his career. As his senior year approached, it was highlighted even more.
We all knew he was gifted scorer, but he needed to blend in more defense and aggression, thus the birth of Westbrook Mentality. But this reared its ugly head, after those two hits on Manganti and Huang. Who was Arvin Tolentino then?
His girlfriend Brandy would always tell him, “I know you.” His coaches knew who he was. Coach Olsen Racela furthered, “Genuinely, he’s really a nice person.” “Sir Ed even told him, “Just be aggressive, but be yourself.” Maybe Westbrook Mentality wasn’t fitting it. At the end of the day, he had to do him. The answer was already there, he already mentioned it three years ago.
“Di naman sa pagmamayabang, but I was born to score.” Time may have passed, but that remains the same.
“Siyempre! It’s still me,” mentioned Arvin with a smile. “Natural na siya eh.” The difference was, instead of treating this natural gift of his by being selfish, he was being asked to use this for the better. “Enjoy the game. At the same time, lead mo yung teammates,” Sir Ed told Arvin.
Moving forward from his suspensions, Arvin knew he was in the wrong with what he did to Manganti and Huang. Whether it was unsportsmanlike or disqualifying remains up for debate, but he knows he was reckless either way. It didn’t matter, it was in the past already. All he could do now was learn, and most importantly, be himself.
He went on a tear once he returned to the Tamaraws, scoring 20 points against a loaded La Salle Green Archers frontline. It continued over the course of the second round, he we were witness to the best Arvin Tolentino we’ve seen in a long time.
He was putting in effort on the defensive end, while being more careful when he would hustle for the basketball. Of course, he was doing what he did best; score. All of this, while embodying. his bio on his Twitter account. “Enjoy the game. You can’t play it forever.”
It all boiled down to November 21, 2018 versus the De La Salle Green Archers. It was a playoff for the fourth seed, and with less than two minutes left in the game, the Tamaraws found themselves down by two points.
Was this going to be Arvin’s One Last Ride after what had been a roller coaster college career? Was he never going to get the fairytale ending that slipped out of his hands last season?
The Tamaraws continued to claw and fight, and with a few stops here and there, the score read 70-68 in favor of the Green Archers. After dodging a bullet after Joaqui Manuel missed a three, Wendell Comboy brought the ball down, and passed it to Arvin who was on the left wing matched up against him.
It felt like deja vu, just like how it was last year. Time ticking down, slower big man against him, with an opportunity to attack from beyond the three-point arc.
He promised as he released all of his emotions to his significant other, “‘Babawi ako next year. The next time I will take this shot, I will make it.”You never break promises to your significant other. He wasn’t breaking this one.
Last year, when the Tamaraws faced a similar situation versus the Ateneo Blue Eagles in the Final four, they had something setup already. “We had a play, we were going to give it to JR. Tapos nadeny. Nagflash ako nun sa middle eh,” recalled Arvin regarding their Season 80 heartbreak.
Fast forward to Season 81, and he had the ball once more. But while all of that was happening, he was telling himself, “Never again. Never again.”
Instead of taking the shot against Baltazar, he opted to pass it to Ebona. “Never again” did not mean not taking the last shot and chickening out. It simply meant, playing with more wisdom, recognizing that there were better options instead of taking a pull up or driving to the cup at that time.
“Hinanap ko si JR kasi siya best creator namin,” recalled Tolentino. “16 seconds, sabi ko ‘Puwede pa yan. Ball screen.’”
While JR set up a pick and roll between him and Ebona, Arvin stayed prepared for a pass from Parker. “I knew na bibigay niya sa akin eh.” Ebona set the pick, forced the switch from the La Salle defense, and with zero hesitation, Parker gave the ball to Arvin.
Arvin finally had the ball, with the game on the line. The season of the Tamaraws on the line. His collegiate career on the line. He had one shot. One opportunity, to seize everything he had ever wanted. Was he going to capture it, or was he going to let it slip, just like last year?
“Babawi ako next year.”
He bended his knees.
“The next time I will take this shot,”
“I will make it.”
He landed on the floor, kept his follow through, and it felt like time suddenly stopped.
Arvin let out the LOUDEST roar he’d ever had over the course of his life, while shouting, “LET’S GO!!!!!” For once, he truly felt free, with nothing left to put him down in that moment. It was the result of countless amount of hours in the gym, working on that shot, with that moment of glory in his mind.
“The past months, he’s been working hard,” said Coach Olsen. “Produkto na lang yun ng countless hours of shooting.”
In the words of Coach Olsen, he was a warrior. Arvin had gone through a lot up until that point. He was called multiple names, had various doubts in oneself, but never did it cross his mind that he’d let everything go.
He kept working. He kept reflecting. Most importantly, he kept on scoring. He just embraced who he was, and no one was stopping him from doing so. Not even the demons inside his head could do anything from allowing him to get the fairytale ending he deserved.
It wasn’t over though, as the FEU Tamaraws still had the Ateneo Blue Eagles on their plate in the Final Four. It wasn’t pretty for Arvin and the Tamaraws, as they got blown out to the tune of 80-61 to bow out of the tournament. Despite the sub-par performance he put up, it truly looked like Arvin was at peace. He had finally found the fairytale ending to his colorful collegiate career, even though it wasn’t the type he had expected for the season.
He waved goodbye to the Ateneo community first, his first home when he entered the UAAP. “Kailangan ko rin magpasalamat sa kanila,” said Arvin regarding the Ateneo community. He never had a formal opportunity to say farewell to the school he once called his home. But this was his chance, to show gratitude to the ones who supported him when he was a Blue Eagle.
“Nakakataba lang ng puso, after all ng nangyari sa akin, sa mga battles namin against Ateneo, they still cheered for me. Especially dati, mga panahong di ako ginagamit,” Arvin said while laughing. “Sila pa yung nagrerequest na ilaro ako.”
Once the Ateneo hymn ended, he immediately turned to the FEU crowd and waved at them at well. He couldn’t help but tear up. Ateneo meant a lot to him, but deep inside, he knew what was truly in his heart.
“Sa sarili ko, Tamaraw talaga ako. Dugong FEU,” said Tolentino. “I know nanggaling ako ng Ateneo, but really, my heart is with FEU.”
It was in FEU where he learned the most. It was in FEU where he was given a second chance to be able to resuscitate his basketball career. Most importantly, it was with FEU where he was able to truly embrace who he was, for better or for worse. All of this, because there was a community out there ready to support him, win or lose.
“He really felt like he’s with his family sa FEU,” said his girlfriend Brandy. “Dun niya nafeel na belong siya.”
We then go back to that question, who is Arvin Tolentino?
King Eagle? Nope.
Benta? That’s tired and cliche. Quit it.
Tamad? He’s just chill. There’s a difference.
Arvin has the best answer to that question.