How Fil-Am coach Leo Balayon is leading a small US university to greater heights
(Photo courtesy of BethesdaFlames.com)
Last December 16, Bethesda University, a little-known college from Anaheim, California made U.S. collegiate basketball history when it defeated the Divsion One school Cal State University - Northridge.
The Bethesda Flames, led by Filipino-American coach Leo Balayon, became the only member of the National Christian College Athletic Association to defeat a Division One school.
Born and raised in Davao, coach Balayon has decades of basketball experience under his belt. He played for Ateneo de Davao's basketball team and eventually became University of the Philippines' assistant coach.
He played semi-professionally in China before joining his family in the US, where the sport followed him, and he became the head coach of the men's basketball team and the athletic director of Bethesda University.
But it looks like he's found home. Balayon is not just breathing life into a little-known school, he's also providing second chances to players who have had a rough past.
With the win, Balayon not only made history, but he was also able to cross something off his bucket list. "I want to win against a division one team as a small school coach, that was one of the items on my bucket list," he said.
And to add to the grandeur of their accomplishment, the win came against a coach like Reggie Theus, a 13-year NBA veteran.
"Being able to accomplish it this past week was really amazing especially doing it against a coach I respect, Reggie Theus is an NBA coach, NCAA coach he's been to the tournament, he's been an NBA all star," Balayon said.
But he didn't do it alone.
BIGGER THAN BASKETBALL
Along with the challenge of coaching a small school, his team consists of players who've had problems in the past, or have come from difficult backgrounds. But they're in it together, nonetheless.
"I know it's a small school, really challenging situation, but it actually allows me to find kids that need help and sometimes the kids we help they come from hard backgrounds. We've had kids who's moms were murdered. We have guys who've lost loved ones," said Balayon.
Further embracing the situation, Balayon appreciates the second chance the sport has given to his players.
"We can't get the top 25 high school recruits but we can get these kids that are overlooked and maybe some coaches shy away them just because of where they're coming from or their past mistakes. For us I use this platform to help kids have a second chance."
TAKE IT FROM THEM
Bethesda Flames guard Rob Bush is a prime example of the hardships some of the players have went through.
"I had to put basketball down for a minute. Because my dad unfortunately died and then my mom was murdered so I had to put it down for a second. I just had to come take care of myself," Bush said.
But Bush is also living proof of how Bethesda's sports program and coach Balayon's coaching have done wonders to rejuvinate players' outlook in life. "It's a blessing any time you can get on the court. It's blessing that we can wake up and have camaraderie whether it's ups or downs."
Another player, 34-year-old Buddha Boyd believes the Flames were destined to play together, and are on their way to do great things.
"I always believed in this team was going to do something special because I'm 34, years old playing college basketball, I'm here for a reason," the 6'5 swingman said.
"After getting to know my teammates and knowing their stories. I just see all of us came together for a reason, something special and the D1 win was just the beginning."
With a report from Steve Angeles, ABS-CBN News