The EAC Generals were on the verge of surrender. Down 13 points in the fourth quarter, it was only a matter of time before they got conquered by the Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights.
But, Juju Bautista refused to put his hands up. He had them spread out to the side while attempting to stop the game’s most valiant player – Bong Quinto.
It would turn out to be a lopsided battle between the two forwards as Quinto charged towards Bautista’s chest to create just enough separation to pull up for a shot. Bautista finally put his hands up as the ball when through the hoop.
When the defeat of EAC was formalized, Quinto was recognized for achieving his second straight triple-double.
At 6 foot 1, Quinto is a nightmare to match-up with. He has the size and strength advantage against guards while big men have difficulty dealing with his mobility and craftiness. With his skill set, he makes the life of his teammates a whole lot easier.
And he’s a champion too.
Last April, Quinto helped the Batangas City Athletics capture the inaugural title of the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL). He was also part of the historic Letran Knights championship squad that dethroned the six-peat seeking San Beda Red Lions during the NCAA’s 91st season in 2015. Quinto is also the last homegrown talent to have been recognized as a Rookie-MVP when he received the accolades as a Letran Squire in 2012.
Once upon a time though, Quinto’s basketball life was far from a fairytale.
Kierjohn “Bong” Quinto was born on December 15, 1994 in Quezon City. He is the youngest of the four children born from parents Danilo and Jocelyn. His only brother, Kristian got him into the sport at a very young age.
“Yung Kuya ko talaga yung lagi ko nakikitang nag ba-basketbol. Lagi kami kinakatok sa bahay namin pag may mga dayo. Kuya ko yung tatawagin. Eh nung nag-graduate na yung Kuya ko ng high school, na-busy na siya dahil scholar siya ng Jollibee. Ako na yung laging nandoon sa court namin,” recalled Quinto.
The court was no Fil-Oil Flying V Centre. It was a make-shift half-court in Quinto’s barangay known as Pasong Tamo.
“Parang linagay lang yung ring doon. 3-on-3 ako nag-start. May whole court din naman 3 minutes away pero pag akyat namin doon, lagi kami talo kasi yung kundisyon namin, pang half-court lang. Tawag samin, ‘pamigay pera’ eh. Kumbaga, talo na agad.”
Basketball providing an opportunity
Despite suffering countless losses, Quinto never quit playing basketball. Once he reached his third year in Kulyat High School, opportunity came knocking at his door. Dato Lozano, a ball boy of the PBA team Alaska invited Quinto to try out for Letran. Lozano was looking recruits for Monch Gavieres, who was the Head Coach of the Squires during that time.
“Sabi ko, ‘Ha? Anong Letran? Di ko alam yun. Wala akong idea kung ano yung NCAA kasi ang alam ko noon PBA lang,” shared Quinto. “Wala akong idea kung san yung Letran. Alam ko lang Intramuros.”
Somehow, Quinto found his way to the Letran Gym inside the walled city in Manila. At first, he was shy and just looked at all the players from the outside until he heard a whistle being blown. That was his cue to muster up the courage and take a huge step towards changing his life. Out of 20 aspirants who tried out, only three were asked to come back. Quinto was one of them. He couldn’t wait to come home and tell his parents.
“Di natin kaya yan, ‘nak” was the response he got after delivering the news. He wasn’t all that surprised considering that he and his siblings all went to public schools.
“Nag-decide yung magulang ko tsaka yung panganay namin na di na ako patuloyin dahil mahihirapan kami financially. At that time, feeling ko talaga kung maka graduate ako ng high school, ramdam ko na mahihirapan ako mag-college. Kasi lahat ng mga kapatid ko, scholar sila. Puro utak. Mahihirapan ako sa ganun. Basketball lang yung way para makapag-aral ako ng college.”
Heartbroken and depressed, Quinto stopped attending his classes. He spent all of his time on the basketball court instead of the classroom.
“Yun lang yung way para makapag-college ako ng libre.”
Eventually, his family noticed his sadness and gave him their blessing to go back to Letran to pursue basketball.
Focused on the goal
The Letran Knights are currently tied with the College of St. Benilde Blazers at third place with identical 7-4 records in the NCAA Season 94 Men’s Basketball tournament. Quinto is playing in his final season for the Knights and is also graduating from school with a degree in Marketing. He’s been a scholar-athlete of Letran for seven years.
“Sobrang thankful ako na hindi ko na inoobliga yung magulang ko na, ‘Ma, kailangan ko ng limang daan.’ Pero nung nag-start ako, hirap na hirap talaga sila. 300 a week. Malaking sacrifice talaga bago narating kung ano man ang meron ako ngayon.”
Even with the PBA Draft on the horizon, Quinto remains focused on the Letran Knights and their crusade.
“Gusto ko mabalik yung nawala dito sa school namin.”
Along with fellow captain JP Calvo, Gilas cadet Jeo Ambohot and new recruits Larry Muyang, Christian Fajarito and Bonbon Batiller, the Letran Knights have the potential to once again rule the NCAA under the guidance of the multi-titled Jeff Napa.
While an NCAA Championship is his short term goal, Quinto admits that he does think about his long-term goal from time to time.
“Lahat naman ng athlete dito sa Pilipinas, yun ang pangarap. Gusto maging PBA player. Ako, bata pa lang ako, di ko naisip maging NCAA player, maging UAAP player, ang iniisip ko, ‘pag laki ko, gusto ko mag PBA.’ Ito pala yung pinakita sa akin ni God na ito yung step mo para makarating ka sa pangarap mo. Sobrang thankful ako sa NCAA. Lahat ng sitwasyon ko sa buhay ko, binibigay ko na sa Panginoon.”