Written with the assistance of Camille Cutler

Granting postgame interviews from members of the media is part and parcel of being a basketball player in the UAAP. Players dream of receiving this type of recognition, but it’s a different story altogether when an actual interview is done. Athletes aren’t afraid to admit they can get shy when the cameras are finally pointed at them. It can get overwhelming, even for the best of them. It requires a level of experience, control, and even maturity to know how to treat media in settings such as these.

As he walked out of the Mall of Asia Arena dugout in a yellow shirt and black short shorts, it probably wasn’t the best time to approach Mark Nonoy for an interview. He, along with the rest of the UST Growling Tigers, were fresh off a 14-point loss against league-leading Ateneo Blue Eagles. But media members rarely care about those kinds of contexts. They want a story out and Nonoy has been a hot topic the entire UAAP Season 82. 

So the two writers of this piece did what any media member would have done; approach Mark either way to get a couple of quotes out of him, even if by nature, he’s one to speed past roadblocks who hamper his journey. In this case, we were the roadblocks. His journey was to simply get out of the Mall of Asia Arena and go home to rest. It wouldn’t have surprised anyone if he just walked past us for the sake of his sanity. Basketball was on his mind, not a silly interview. 

Nonoy has been an athlete by nature ever since he was born. While not blessed with the height most basketball players are associated with, he was blessed with one important trait; speed. 

“Kasi yung father ko rin basketball player. Yung mother ko dati track and field,” said Mark. “Siguro gift din sakin ni Lord yung speed ko ganito.” Even as a young kid, he was already immersed in different fields of sport. He gave track and field a try when he was a fifth grader. He acknowledges that experience trained him as a whole. But that’s all track and field was to him; a worthwhile experience which gave him training for future endeavors. In his heart, he knew he would chase another sport: basketball.

That’s why Nonoy put his blood, sweat, and tears into basketball. He found joy and success in the sport as he honed his skills in the province of Negros Occidental. There’s always been plenty of talent from outside Metro Manila and Nonoy was part of this elite group. But being part of this group also came with its cons. That also meant you’re immediately boxed into a certain archetype.

Here’s something people need to understand: probinsyano basketball players are unique from the ones we find in Metro Manila. They were often asked to check what we’d like to call the three pillars of a great basketball player: the presence of instinct, natural athletic ability, and skill. More often than not, players only check two out of those three pillars. Nonoy had natural instincts of the sport already, while also possessing the athletic ability (read: speed) to be elite. But the pillar players had most trouble checking was skill; specifically the skill of shooting.  

“Pag sinabi mong (galing) sa province kasi, pag sobrang bilis, walang shooting,” said Nonoy’s fellow probinsyano, SJ Belangel of Ateneo. SJ’s right. It’s a sickness players from all around the country have. When they find that one physical advantage which they have against the rest — whether it be speed, leaping ability, or sheer power — they spam it to oblivion. Nonoy was fast. He could have just opted to abuse this gift without polishing the rest of his game. Could have.

“Pero siya,” SJ said regarding Nonoy, “Ibang level. May shooting tapos may bilis. Ano pa ba gagawin mo?” Mark Nonoy checked the three pillars of a great basketball player. He was undeniably special. He was so special in fact that Coach Aldin Ayo brought the kid from Negros Occidental all the way to Espana to represent the UST Growling Tigers.

From the get-go, the probinsyano already made an impact with UST’s program. During Season 81, Mark was awarded as a member of the Mythical Five, finishing second in the MVP race behind Kai Sotto. Despite it being just his first year in Metro Manila, Mark flourished. He averaged 21.8 points, 8.9 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 2.6 steals. His speed was indeed overwhelming, while he showed an offensive game which made scouts from all levels gush. He looked like someone who could instantly contribute in the Seniors Division under Coach Aldin Ayo. But Aldin didn’t just want Mark to produce. He also wanted him to grow.

Mark was fast, he could shoot, and he had instincts to make his physical tools work. The problem was, his instincts always told him to attack and score. While he did rack up assists with the Tiger Cubs, these were often off isolation plays leading to kick-outs. There’s a big difference between getting dimes and allowing an offense to run smoothly. The former meant you could pass. The latter meant you could play as a point guard. Coach Aldin wanted Mark not just to pass, but also to orchestrate.

“Gusto naming point guard siya. He really has to because walang shooting guard sa PBA na 5’8”,” said Ayo after their game against Ateneo in the second round. “Para sa kanya kasi, (dapat) maging dominant ako maging point guard. Execute yung plays, paano pagalingin yung teammates,” said Mark. 

To be a great point guard means one is able to control the tempo and the offense of his team. That’s what Coach Aldin wanted out of Mark. But people need to understand, it isn’t easy to completely embrace how it is to be a full-time point guard. It wasn’t a matter of learning new skills for Mark; it was a matter of rejiggering his instincts. 

Mark has always been used to playing under one tempo: fast. He’s able to shoot the way he does because he gets to his spots so quickly, while he uses that gravity to quickly attack the rim for easy baskets. But as a point guard, you can’t always play fast. There are situations which call you to slow down the pace so you can execute your halfcourt offense well. What Aldin wanted out of Mark wasn’t just to set his teammates up, but to also have discipline in controlling the tempo out of UST’s offense.

This has been a challenge for Mark. During his first game in the Seniors Division, he shot 1/11 from the field. That wasn’t just a bad shooting day for Mark, as error-filled games have become the norm for Mark in his rookie season. Yet despite that, Coach Aldin’s trust hasn’t wavered in Mark. He still gets plenty of burn under Coach Aldin, even in the clutch. Call this foolish out of the coach, but Aldin has reasons for his decision to still believe in the developing point guard.

“I put Mark on a very crucial situation because knowing him, I know that he was cocky enough to make those shots, take those shots, because I know that he’s unconscious,” said Aldin after Nonoy’s performance against Adamson in the second round. “He’s going to commit turnovers pero isa to sa mga players ko na buo yung loob, walang pakialam, he’s just going to play basketball.”

That means Coach Aldin trusts in Mark’s instincts. Mark was born to be an athlete and he’s shown he deserves to be in the position he is in right now. Even though he’s still flawed with his instincts in playing the point guard position, Coach Aldin and the entire UST team know deep in Mark’s heart, no matter what his decision making may be, is pure confidence and joy in what he does. With that confidence is the willingness to learn things out of his comfort zone, all for the sake of his basketball future.

“Di lang niya ako sineset hanggang college kung hindi for the future kasi,” said Mark regarding his head coach. In his first Final Four game, he notched seven assists while committing just one turnover. Slowly but surely, Mark is figuring it out. He has the talent, while he’s embracing the lessons being taught to him by his mentors, all for the sake of becoming a professional. 

An important part of becoming a professional is granting interviews with media. As these two media members approached the normally speedy Mark after their loss against Ateneo, Nonoy stopped with no hesitation and complaints. He had to go home, but he also knew this was part of the job he hopes to get once he leaves the Seniors Division. He’s slowly starting to love it, even if it’s an adjustment.

“Gusto mo ng ubas?” he asked us before we started our interview. He’s used to being fast, but in this moment, he stopped and welcomed the media that wanted to talk to him. It’s a small thing, but stuff like that is a sign that slowly but surely, Mark Nonoy is figuring out how it is to be professional. It involves learning when to stop and when to go, even when off the court. It’s all worth it if it means it’s all for the sake of showcasing his true potential in the biggest of stages.