On the first day of July last year, the Australian men’s basketball team, also known as the Boomers, irked the sponsors and executives of the Philippines men’s basketball team by removing the decals in the Philippine Arena during their practice session. It created controversy, but little did we know, that was only the beginning.

The next day, they got into the heads of the Gilas Pilipinas players – including those who were in the reserve list – for that crucial match in the third window of the FIBA World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers. It actually started even before the game began, when Calvin Abueva tripped Daniel Kickert during the warm-ups. In his defense, the former San Sebastian Golden Stag claimed that the Australians started it first and they just retaliated afterward.

The tension between the two teams remained extremely high during the game, but both the Filipinos and the Australians were able to hold it back – until the 4:01 of the third quarter.

In the midst of the fracas, Jiovani Jalalon, who was relegated to the reserve list, ran from the Gilas bench and threw a solid right-handed punch to Nathan Sobey’s face. In the heat of the moment, it wasn’t easy to see. But shortly after the rumble, SPIN.ph would publish an image that clearly caught Jalalon punching Sobey. He would eventually apologize later on, but Jalalon still received a heavy five-game suspension from FIBA, the world governing body for basketball.

Luckily for Jalalon, the punishment only covered FIBA games, which meant that his stint with the Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) was safe. A week later, he played in the quarter-final round of the 2018 Commissioner’s Cup but quickly bowed out of the tournament in the same day as they suffered an 89-78 beating from the Alaska Aces.

The effect of the infamous brawl against the Boomers carried on to the following conference as most of the people overlooked Jalalon’s talent as a Gilas-caliber point guard. Due to his lengthy FIBA suspension, it opened the door for other guards to join the National Team in the last six matches of the Asian Qualifiers.

In the first four games that he missed, new Gilas head coach Yeng Guiao gave Scottie Thompson and Alex Cabagnot their senior debuts, recalled Paul Lee and LA Tenorio to the team, and used Stanley Pringle as a naturalized player. Each guard played significantly well and solidified Guiao’s decision to bring them in during the two windows that happened on September and December.

Jalalon, meanwhile, stayed with Magnolia and quietly helped them claim the 2018 Governor’s Cup championship on December 19. It was his first ever career title as his time with the Informatics College (in the NAASCU) and with the Arellano Chiefs (in the NCAA) yielded blanks. He did reach the NCAA Finals twice but succumbed to the then San Beda College Red Lions.

“The Cyclone” played in 11 elimination round games and was the team’s fifth-leading scorer with 9.45 points per game (ppg). He also grabbed 5.09 rebounds per game, dished out 6.82 assists per game, and had 1.64 steals per game in just 23.12 minutes per game. Jalalon’s three-point stroke was frigid at 24%, but his overall field goal shooting though was splendid at 46%.

He had a myriad of eye-catching games throughout the Governor’s Cup campaign, but his most impressive one was probably the elimination round game against the Blackwater Elite. Jalalon filled the stat sheet and earned his first PBA triple-double (13 points, 12 rebounds, and 13 assists) to power Magnolia past the Elite on October 10.

Fast forward to 2019 and Jalalon is still playing incredible basketball. The former Arellano University standout opened his 2019 Philippine Cup with a promising performance against the TNT KaTropa as he notched 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists in almost 31 minutes of play.

The Cagayan De Oro native followed it up an 11-point outing against the San Miguel Beermen, but unfortunately, it was not enough to stop the losing skid and make a return to the National Team line-up.

Jalalon sat out Gilas’ penultimate game in the Asian Qualifiers against Qatar on February 21 due to his suspension but was eligible for the clash against Kazakhstan three days later. He missed the roster for that match, but he never lost focus and continued to play outstanding basketball in the PBA.

Magnolia ended the elimination round with a 6-5 record and is en route to another Playoff appearance under head coach Chito Victolero. His system has been a perfect match to Jalalon’s skillset as he preaches heavy pressure defense and usually prefers to employ a 3-guard line-ups in spurts.

His rise has been evident thus far. His scoring has remained a constant, as he now averages 11 PPG in just 25.5 minutes of play despite playing in a loaded Magnolia backcourt. His rebounding has continued to improve as well, while he continues to showcase solid playmaking with averages of 5 RPG and 4 RPG respectively. His defense in the backcourt continues to be a delight to watch, as he now averages 2.4 steals per game while showing an improved stroke after averaging 34 percent from downtown.

The 2019 Philippine Cup of Jalalon has been great so far, but the one game that will definitely stick out is Magnolia’s clash against the crowd-darling Barangay Ginebra San Miguel on March 17. Even though they lost that match, 97-93, Jalalon had a scintillating performance, which included a game-tying three-pointer at the top of the key off an assist by Barroca to send it to overtime.

In 27:48 minutes of playing time, Jalalon scorched the Ginebra defense with 22 points while shooting 50 percent beyond the arc, and 56 percent overall from the field. He had an ugly first half but exploded in the final two quarters to keep Magnolia in the game. Aside from his scoring exploits, Jalalon also tallied 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals in a losing effort.

Despite putting himself in the spotlight due to his wrongdoings in the Asian Qualifiers, Jalalon has kept an unshakable resolve and has bounced back spectacularly. He let his game to the talking and has shown that he’s not just a “bad boy” on the court.

His ability to play on both ends of the court, especially his tenacity on the defensive end, has been his greatest asset so far and that’s what separates himself from the other point guards in the country.

Magnolia has been reaping the benefits of a re-focused Jalalon for two conferences now and it’s just a matter of time before he forces his way back to the Gilas roster.