Athletes are instantly put on pedestals the moment they wear that jersey representing their schools, or even their barangays. Be known as a player of any sport and your status increases immediately. It holds that kind of special power.
It’s a power that can make or break people. Make; athletes maximize their resources and stay grounded amidst increased fame. Break; athletes are swallowed by the fame and lose sight of what truly matters. Being within the industry doesn’t guarantee success. Like what they say, with great power comes great responsibility.
Rey Suerte was born to sit in that same pedestal as athletes. The kid out of Compostela Valley has the natural gifts fit for the premier basketball player: a lanky frame that’s built to run long strides, along with a chiseled enough frame to sustain hits from the largest of opponents. Even when walking outside of the basketball court, you couldn’t help but stare at Rey for an extra second or two. Athletes have that kind of natural magnetism to them. Rey was no exception.
But when it came to sheer personality, that was the only thing which caused people to stare at Rey: his status as an athlete. Even as he slowly built his name as a premier prospect in the University of the Visayas Green Lancers, he never came off as someone who craved for attention. Walang ere. He was a silent operator off the court. He’d be respectful to those who requested for pictures or supporters, but never did he act like he was much more than these people.
There was an aura of mystery to him. Even as he started to make noise with the Che’Lu Bar and Grill in the PBA DLeague, he wasn’t creating the type of transcendent buzz we’d gotten used to from premier basketball players. Even when news of the UE Red Warriors recruiting him surfaced in basketball circles, interest surrounding him did not follow suit.
The Red Warriors weren’t expected to really contend for a Final Four slot coming into UAAP Season 82. Losing Alvin Pasaol during the offseason certainly hurt their chances. But Coach Joe Silva leaving a few days before the season began felt like the final nail in the coffin for the hopes of UE to even be competitive. It looked like Suerte was going to be nothing but a blip on a dysfunctional program that was looking to at least achieve stability.
Who was this Rey Suerte? There were plenty of question marks even after he played his first three games in the UAAP versus the UST Growling Tigers, the FEU Tamaraws, and the Adamson Soaring Falcons. We knew he was a CESAFI MVP. We’ve heard his name one way or another. But to say that we had a complete hold of who he was as a player and even as a person would be a lie. Yet somehow, he only needed one game to answer all of the questions about him.
September 16, 2019. UE was set to go up against a De La Salle Green Archers team that looked primed to contend for a Finals berth in this UAAP season. It was understandably at the 2pm slot of a Saturday double-header. It did not look a game that would garner much attention. Or so we thought.
The game started out with the Red Warriors taking control. Their offense was clicking from the very beginning while La Salle looked lost on both ends of the floor. Opening quarter jitters, some thought. The score read 28-24, with the Red Warriors on top. There was still an opening for the Green Archers to make a comeback. Up until this point, the story was still about La Salle. It still felt like a 2pm game with an inevitable ending on its way.
Basketball continued to be played. Time continued to tick. Yet slowly but surely, the narrative was shifting. By the end of the second quarter, UE was up by 11. 10 basketball minutes later, they still had control with a seven point lead. As the story moved away from the struggles of the Green Archers to the valiant stand of the Red Warriors, people started to search for someone who could fit the bill as a protagonist of this tale that was being written.
Would it be Alex Diakhite, the then sick foreign student athlete who was suddenly inserted by active consultant Lawrence Chongson? Or what about Neil Tolentino, the upstart rookie who was having a hell of a revenge game against his former school?
What about the one who looked like a blip in what was projected to be another dysfunctional season; the one whose aura of mystery continued to prevail even with a resume that could match any top prospect for the upcoming PBA Draft?
With 24 seconds left on the clock and an 85-83 deficit standing in their way, Rey Suerte had his hands on the ball for the UE Red Warriors. At that point, he already had 25 points. Probably the most quiet 25 points you’ll ever see out of a CESAFI MVP. But he wasn’t done just yet. As he welcomed the pick from his big, he drove right, crossed left, and pulled back from the right wing. Splash.
Moment number one. The Red Warriors were now up 86-85. Suerte landed on the floor, ran back to the other side and gave his teammates a blank stare. No theatrics. No crazy celebrations. He could only pause for a moment and breathe a sigh of relief as the Green Archers called a timeout. There was still 15.4 seconds left on the clock. The job wasn’t done yet for the Red Warriors.
True enough, Aljun Melecio made a three-pointer right after that timeout. Suerte still had that blank stare on his face. There was still 6.8 seconds left on the clock. The job wasn’t done yet. The game wasn’t done yet. There was no reason to sulk nor to panic. The Red Warriors still had a chance. Rey Suerte still had a chance to come out on top.
Like what coaches always say, the deadliest option coming out of an out of bounds play is the inbounder. True enough, Coach Lawrence Chongson opted to put Suerte in that position coming out of their own timeout. As the referee blew the whistle signaling the start of play, time suddenly started to tick faster.
Suerte inbounds to Diakhite. Diakhite dishes to the cutting Suerte. Suerte stops. Suerte elevates. He already had 28 points, that should have been enough already to answer questions. But he didn’t just want to answer questions. He wanted to straight up smash these into oblivion. He was ready to no longer just be a mystery. He was now grabbing this power that had been handed to him the moment he became an athlete. He wasn’t letting this one slip. This was his to take.
Moment number two. 31 points. The ball went in the basket and the Red Warriors were up 89-88. They were up for good. They had won the game. Suerte’s stare was no longer blank. Suerte couldn’t help but let out a scream, something we weren’t used to seeing from someone so reserved and quiet. But this one moment from Suerte, him scoring his 29th, 30th, and 31st points off a game-winning three, perfectly captured who Rey Suerte was.
While quiet and reserved, Rey Suerte is an assassin. Even dating back to his days with the Green Lancers, he’d always been a born scorer, someone who knew how to blend his physical gifts with skill. One local from Cebu even went as far as to say, “He was the best one to come around here since Tallo.” It wasn’t a crazy thing to blurt out. Suerte could pull-up, post-up, and penetrate with the best of them. His scoring repertoire was deep and polished. He certainly looked built to make it to the PBA given how good he was at putting the ball inside the basket.
But that wasn’t going to be enough for Suerte. Simply making it as a scorer wasn’t his goal. He’d always been a killer. He’d always wanted to win. He wanted to make it to the PBA as a premier prospect. If he wanted to do that, he needed to show teams he could do more than just score. He needed to learn how to create not just for himself, but for others as well.
By some stroke of luck, circumstance pushed Suerte to play point guard when UV playmakers started to drop like flies over the course of one season. Even his head coach Gary Cortes made sure Suerte would develop his playmaking skills to pair with his otherworldly scoring. Suerte didn’t bother complaining. He knew he needed this to reach his goal of making it to the PBA.
But more than just skill, Suerte knew he needed exposure. With zero hesitation, he packed his bags out of Cebu and headed north to Manila. While there’s plenty of talent in Cebu, it’s widely accepted that the level of competition in Manila is on another level. This was the perfect stage for Rey to showcase who he truly. He didn’t just go here with expectations of lessons; he wanted to flat-out perform to boost his stock for the PBA draft.
That’s exactly what we got in UAAP Season 82 with that game versus La Salle as the most notable moment of Suerte’s run. What we saw was a player who never demanded attention off the court, but required five sets of eyeballs staring at him on it. While he walked with the status of an athlete, he made sure to show why he deserved this title whenever he wore the jersey that had “The EAST” on his chest. He’s a silent assassin by nature. The basketball court was his sanctuary; a stage where he could showcase his true emotions at the right place and at the right time.
The journey doesn’t stop here for Suerte. While this was his One Last Ride in the collegiate ranks, he now makes his leap to the PBA, where other Red Warrior legends like Paul Lee and James Yap wait for his arrival. He’ll continue to walk quietly even with his stock boosted. Silence off the court will continue to reign even while endorsement deals slowly knock on his door. He is an athlete, someone we will continue to put on a pedestal. But Rey Suerte is so much more than that, as shown by how he reintroduced himself to Philippine Basketball. He’s a straight up killer; a person with dreams and desires fueled only be a genuine love for the game.