TWO ALUMNI of the National Athletic Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities have been named to the Philippine team that will be tasked to win the Southeast Asian Basketball Association (SEABA) Men’s Championship starting tomorrow (May 12) at the Araneta Coliseum. Star Hotshots teammates Jiovani Jalalon and Allein Maliksi hope to contribute in what is seen as the vital first step in the country’s ultimate goal of playing again in the world’s biggest tournaments.
Winning the SEABA is important because anything less than a championship will dash all hopes for the Philippines to qualify for the FIBA-Asia Championship which is linked to qualifying for the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. With the big picture in mind, Coach Vincent “Chot” Reyes assembled a core composed of youngsters like Jalalon and Maliksi who should be at the peak of their basketball careers in three years time.
As a fresh high school graduate out of Sacred Heart of Cagayan de Oro City’s Jesus Montessori School, the then 17-year old Jalalon landed a spot with the Informatics International College Icons in 2010. Since he was still young, league rules allowed the college freshman to compete first in the Juniors Division and he then moved up to the Seniors Division the following season.
“I consider my winning the Seniors Rookie of the Year award in 2011 as my most memorable NAASCU moment,” said Jalalon. That year, he helped steer the Icons of Coach Jonathan Reyes to a Third Place finish, their best-ever performance.
Sadly, that proved to be the final appearance of Jalalon and the Icons as school management decided shift their attention to the fledgling PBA D-League. He did not join his teammates though as he had already received an offer to transfer to Arellano University long before the Icons’ decision to leave the NAASCU.
The rest they say is history as Jalalon went on to steer the Chiefs to a pair of NCAA runner-up finishes while building a solid reputation as a playmaker in the D-League and PCBL. That was more than enough for him to be named to the national squad and eventually getting tabbed by Star in last year’s special draft for national players.
Now a pro league rookie, Jalalon is very excited to play in front of the home crowd for the first time. The spitfire guard had already donned the national colors but these tournaments were held overseas like the Southeast Asian Games and FIBA-Asia Cup.
“I used to only watch Jayson Castro on television and now I feel very lucky because he is now my teammate and also my roommate for this SEABA,” added Jalalon. “I hope to learn a lot from him as his backup.”
For Maliksi, it is surprising to note that a player of his calibre started playing competitive basketball only in his third year in college at the University of Manila. He entered UM as an ordinary student from Camarin High School in Caloocan City but that all changed when legendary coach Loreto Tolentino Sr. included him in the Hawks’ line-up for the 2005 NAASCU wars after spotting him in the school intramurals.
That batch of Hawks went on to give the school its unprecedented fifth consecutive NAASCU championship. Maliksi and his teammates though would fall short the following season as UM’s dynasty was ended by the AMA University Titans led by MVP and future pro Chito Jaime.
Following their 2006 debacle, Maliksi then took his talents to the University of Santo Tomas and after a year of residency made his UAAP debut in 2008. From there, he managed to play in the final conferences of the Philippine Basketball League and then made history as the first MVP of the PBA D-League with Cebuana Lhuillier in 2011 which led to his being drafted by Barako Bull as the eighth overall pick in that year’s PBA Rookie Draft.
Maliksi somewhat cemented his place in this year’s national team by winning the Three-Point Shootout at the recent PBA All-Star Week festivities held in the cities of Cagayan de Oro, Lucena and Lapu-Lapu. He has truly found a home with Star, his team since 2013 after bouncing back and forth between Barako Bull and Barangay Ginebra.
The SEABA-bound squad is getting a big boost with the generous support of Chooks-To-Go, the country’s leading roasted chicken chain through its president and general manager Ronald Mascarinas of Bounty Agro Ventures Inc. “I am not happy with this team, I am very happy especially if they promote the true spirit of sportsmanship win or lose which has long been the advocacy of our company,” said Mascarinas during a recent get together the company hosted for the nationals to wish them well in their SEABA campaign.
Jalalon best sums it up in his message to all current NAASCU athletes. “Always have confidence in your talent and pray and work hard, you will never know when the opportunity will come to show your talent on a bigger level like the national team or the PBA so always be ready.”
For now, the entire Philippine national team will bank heavily on the home court advantage as they battle visitors from Myanmar (Burma), Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. By then, the name in front of the jersey will matter more than the one on the back.