Joseph Eriobu may not have been awarded Best Player of the Game when the Mapua Cardinals beat the San Beda Red Lions, 101-97, but the win was Eriobu’s sweetest victory yet.
On paper, it was the breakout game the power forward had been waiting for: a career-high 26 points, plus nine rebounds. Together with center Allwell Oraeme’s 12 points and 24 rebounds, the pair of big men cut an imposing figure on the court. Beyond the stats, it was a moment of vindication for Eriobu, who almost didn’t make the team for NCAA Season 92.
Eriobu first played for the Cardinals from 2012 to 2014. In the 2014 season, he even led the Cardinals in two statistical categories, averaging nearly 14 points and eight rebounds per game. However, a question about his commitment to the team led to him being sidelined for NCAA Season 91.
That season turned out to be Mapua’s best in years, where the team went from last place to a third-place finish. “Dalawa feelings ko eh. Masaya ka na hindi lang sila nag-final four, top three pa, tapos tinatalo nila mga malalakas talaga,” recalls Eriobu. “Pero malungkot din kasi gusto ko makasama ako, makatulong ako.”
“Naki-usap talaga ako [kay Coach Atoy] na ibalik ako sa team,” admits Eriobu. He promised to do better, to prove himself. The Fortune Cookie was hesitant at first, but eventually relented and allowed Eriobu back for his last playing year. It was a favor, and they both knew it.
The young man breathed a sigh of relief: “Buti pumayag.”
In his year off, Eriobu had found an outlet in training with Mapua’s track and field team. (Fun fact: If Coach Atoy had said no, we might be seeing Eriobu compete in the high jump instead.) Because of this, Eriobu was able to stay fit, but getting back to the basketball grind meant working twice as hard in the weights room. “Hanggang ngayon, extra work palagi sa weights, para sa lower body ko,” he shares.
Eriobu struggled in the first round of the NCAA Season 92, putting up averages lower than his 2014 performance; but his markedly better Round 2 showing may just be the turning point that the Dumaguete local is hungry for. “Sobrang laki nitong larong ito,” says Eriobu.
“Last year na namin ni CJ [Isit], syempre gusto naming maganda ‘yung iiiwan namin,” he says. “At syempre gusto naming makapaglaro sa pros, kaya we need to make the most of this year.” In their hard-fought win, it was Eriobu who cut the Red Lions’ ten-point lead in regulation, while Isit made 11 of his 15 points in the crucial fourth quarter and overtime.
It’s been an unconventional journey for Eriobu—one of exhilarating highs and humbling lows. More than anything, he says, his journey has taught him to listen to his coaches.
“Ang pinakamagandang natutunan ko kina Coach Atoy at kay Coach Ed [Cordero], sabi nila ang buhay, dapat pinagpaplanuhan. Kahit nagba-basketball ka, dapat makapagtapos ka pa rin,” says Eriobu, a psychology major. “Sa basketball naman, dapat matuto kang sumunod sa sistema ng coach. Doon lang lalabas ‘yung totoong galing mo.”