Ten Questions with Alab Pilipinas' Jens Knuttel
Ceej Tantengco on Jan 15, 2017 12:20 PM
Former FEU Tamaraw and Ginebra Gin King Jens Knuttel gets a second chance with Alab PilipinasA lot of media attention during Jens Knuttel’s collegiate career focused on his looks. Magazine covers and fashion shoots hyped the former FEU Tamaraw as a campus heartthrob. This made it easy for those who didn’t know Knuttel to discount his abilities, which is a shame because his real story is far more compelling.
Raised in Zamboanga, Knuttel came to Manila on his own when he was just 14 years old to pursue his goal of playing in the UAAP. The point guard was drafted by PBA fan favorite Ginebra, but struggled to get minutes despite coaches recognizing his work ethic.
Here’s Knuttel on how his struggles made him stronger, and why playing for Alab Pilipinas in the ASEAN Basketball League is a second chance he’s determined to make the most of.
Let’s go back to your roots. How did you first get into basketball?
When I was a kid, all my friends tried out at SBP (Small Basketeers Philippines) and they all got in. I felt sad because I wasn’t picked—of course, I hadn’t even gone [to the tryout]. But I went to the tryout the next day and luckily kahit fourteen na ang na-pick, ako ‘yung pang-fifteen na last.
I didn’t even know anything about basketball. I just joined because my friends were there, pero nagtuloy-tuloy na. Every summer, I’d join basketball camps until I became team captain in grade school, all the way to high school in Ateneo de Zamboanga.
Kailan mo naisip na basketball ang gusto mo na talagang career?
When I was young, I was already an avid fan of the UAAP. Even if I was in Zamboanga, I already knew the players in Manila. Kahit nga ‘yung mga hindi nagagamit, kilala ko. Naging dream ko maglaro ng college ball sa Manila.
Back in high school, I was part of Team Zamboanga in Palarong Pambansa. We won the regional [tournament] and represented Region 9 against Manila, which was San Beda. We lost by 20 points, but me and Garvo Lanete had a good game so San Beda recruited us.
My parents really didn’t want me to leave Zamboanga because I was just 14 years old and had no relatives in Manila. They were scared for me and also, they wanted me to graduate [high school in Ateneo de Zamboanga] first. Pero ako, I didn’t let that stop me. I just took the sacrifice and said, “this is my dream and it will really make me happy just being there.”
Walk us through the mindset of a 14-year old Jens alone in Manila. How did you survive?
It was really a sacrifice and a risk. Medyo malungkot nga na I didn’t get to see my younger siblings grow up. But I was really excited at the time. It felt like a new chapter for me. Mahirap kasi I stayed in a dorm, and konti lang naman ang taga-probinsya doon, pero noong nasanay na, it was also fun.
I treated my teammates like my family at pati sa coaches ko, naging anak-anakan na ako. It was just sad kasi every weekend, all the Manila boys would go home and wala na akong kasama. I remember my first birthday away from home, I celebrated alone and I was crying talaga.
How has that helped you cope with the challenges of being a pro athlete today?
If you go to the pros, it’s not easy. It made me independent.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
Maybe the biggest setback was when I was in the PBA, I didn’t get to play that much so it was hard to prove myself. It’s hard to prove yourself to people if you don’t get to play. Kaya I’m happy that I’m here sa Alab and I get to show my worth.
At the time you were with Ginebra, Coach Jeff Cariaso praised your hard work. Where does that work ethic come from?
First, I want to say ‘thank you’ to Coach Jeff. When I got drafted to the PBA, I started as a practice player. Wala ako sa regular rotation. So while I was thankful to be there, I also had to prove that I was worthy to be in the lineup. So when he came in sa Ginebra, he gave me the opportunity to be in the lineup and ginamit niya rin ako.
Kung sa sipag…I think that’s my calling card. Just giving my best, all out. Whether it’s practice or a game, binibigay ko lang best ko at siguro ‘yun ang nakita niya.
Does Alab feel like a second chance?
Yeah, I think that’s how it is for all of us. It’s still basketball and we’re given the opportunity to prove ourselves, and play, which we love. And we’re very thankful for Alab.
It’s my first time representing a club team and also my country. May pressure [having the name of your country on the jersey], pero it makes it fun to play.
When you were starting your pro career, you said you see yourself mainly as a guy who sets up his teammates to score. Is that still true?
Ngayon sa Alab, I’m just playing my role with our team. Sobrang dami na naming scorers. So ang contribution ko, I’m more on setting plays, getting them rolling.
Where has the reception to Alab Pilipinas been the warmest?
Sa home games namin, I was pretty shocked. Kasi kahit coming from Ginebra na fan favorite at may die-hard fans…it was a shock not being a Ginebra player but seeing everyone cheering for you. Kasi nga home crowd. And even we went to Singapore, the Filipino fans were pretty awesome.
I think they [outnumbered] the locals there. Pilipinong-Pilipino mag-cheer. As in, shouting at the refs, all out!
What are your thoughts on Alab’s championship chances this season?
I think our team is pretty solid. We can’t wait for our team to reach its peak. We’ve got two new imports [Sampson Carter and James Hughes]. We’re excited for them to gel with us and we’re excited to improve with every game.
Knowing the Filipino spirit, the Filipino kind of basketball, and the Filipino kind of fans, we’ll get there.