Jerrick Balanza - A Knight Reborn

Anton Roxas on Sep 27, 2019 09:59 AM
Jerrick Balanza - A Knight Reborn
“Gusto ko talaga mag-champion kasi gusto ko ibalik sa Letran community yung ginawa nila sa akin na pagsama sa battle ko. Gusto ko mag-champion kami pag-exit ko dahil pag pasok ko sa college champion din ako agad. So, yun yung gusto kong iwan sa kanila,” - Jerrick Balanza

Jerrick Balanza opened his eyes and everything was white.

Was he in heaven? He thought. Was he still alive?

All of a sudden, he began to hear noises. A rush of nervousness filled his entire body like it never has before. Where was he? Jerrick was dying to know. 

And then, his vision returned.

He found himself lying down inside the recovery room of the National Kidney and Transplant Institute in Quezon City, surrounded by strangers with similar conditions. A nurse approached his bed.

“Sir, matulog ka pa po,” said the nurse.

“Buhay pa ba ako?” Jerrick asked.

“Yes Sir, pahinga ka lang,” she replied.

But, Jerrick couldn’t help himself. He began removing everything that was attached to his body including the nasal cannula that was supplying him with oxygen. The nurse insisted that Jerrick stayed put but he somehow summoned the strength to move out of the room. That’s when he saw his longtime girlfriend, Kelly, who immediately broke down in tears. 

“Buhay pa ako, Babe.” Jerrick told her.

For a moment, everything was all right in his world.

 

From the End to the Beginning

Prior to having brain surgery, the Neurologist told Jerrick that he was expected to be in a semi-coma for a week. It was an absolute miracle that he found himself awake in just an hour. When all of the emotions settled down, Jerrick went back home with Kelly, feeling positive and thankful to the Lord for he had just been given a new lease on life.

The tumor that nearly ended Jerrick’s life is gone. While that may have been the biggest threat he has ever encountered in his 23 years on this earth, Jerrick knows that he wouldn’t have been able to overcome it if not for the hardships he has dealt with ever since he was born. 

It was in the Esperanza Health Center & Lying In Clinic in Sta. Mesa, Manila where Jerrick’s mother, Raquel gave birth to him on September 6, 1996. They resided in San Miguel, Manila with his father, Efren who tried to support his family by making ends meet as tricycle driver for deliveries. While the Balanza breadwinner was at work, Jerrick and his older brother Mark Jason found refuge at the basketball court located just two streets away from their house. Jerrick was only seven years old when he started playing.

“Tatay ko kasi, di ko na inabutan na nagba-basketbol eh. Nood na ako sa kalye, tas’ pag mag-internet pa ako sa computer, nood din ako doon basketbol. Pag naglalaro ako, kung ano yung pinanood ko, yun yung gagayahin ko.”

Allen Iverson is the reason Jerrick can dribble the ball exceptionally well even as a 6’3” small forward. But, it was James Yap who inspired the graduating team captain to take big shots. His interest for the game led him to his first varsity team stint as a Grade 4 student in Geronimo Santiago Elementary School before moving up to Victorino Mapa High School, where he was discovered by Raymond Reyes, brother of Coach Ricky Reyes. Lo and behold, an opportunity to try-out for the Letran Squires presented itself.

Jerrick remembers his first visit to Letran like it was just yesterday.

“Pag punta ko sa Letran, ang sabi, alas-sais daw ensayo. So, mga 5:30 andun na ako. Madilim pa. Yun una kong dating talaga, inulan ako eh. May dala akong payong, naka-sapatos lang ako noon. Pero alas-siete pa pala ensayo,” shared Jerrick.

“6:30, nagdatingan na yung mga coach nila. May tumawag sa akin, ‘Iho, halika dito.’”

It was Coach Ricky Reyes. 

“Basang-basa yung sapatos ko. Unang ensayo ko nun tapos hard sila agad.”

Present during that first practice were future teammates Rey Nambatac and Bong Quinto who gave Jerrick a welcome he would remember for the rest of his life. 

“Natakot ako. Ayaw ko na nga bumalik doon kasi, ganun pala doon na… tirahan eh. Bago ako, ako lang yung bago, wala nang ibang nag try-out. Ako lang talaga. Feeling ko, pinag-kaka-isahan nila ako. Sikuhin nila ako, ganung experience.”

Soon after, Jerrick found out that it was all just a test to see if he would be able to withstand the physicality of the competition in the NCAA. He fought back and earned the respect of his peers, officially enrolling in Letran as a sophomore before making the Squires’ lineup for the league’s, 89th and 90th seasons. 

When it was time to elevate to the collegiate level, another challenge arrived in the form of new Letran Knights Head Coach, Aldin Ayo.

“Iba yung tingin namin kay Coach Aldin. Nanibago lahat sa sistema niya. Ensayo namin, 5:30 ng umaga i-start na agad. Gumagapang na kami. Spider-man push ups. Nung time na yun, halos hindi na kami pinahawak ng bakal. Puro body weight lang talaga,” described Jerrick.

As a rookie, Jerrick was part of the NCAA Season 91 Championship team of the Letran Knights. He worked hard to earn a spot in the lineup. For him, being a part of that team was a must, as he was already a young father.

“Gusto ko talaga ma-lineup dahil kailangan ko rin ng allowance. Dati kasi nung High School, wala kaming allowance. May isang anak na ako that time. Makapag-uwi lang ako, syempre, para sa anak ko,” revealed Jerrick.

For the next three years, Jerrick juggled responsibilities to his family, studies, and basketball as the Knights failed to defend their title but continued to battle for their place in the NCAA as perennial championship contenders. During that time frame, the multi-titled Jeff Napa had filled in the post vacated by Ayo in Letran and tried earnestly to develop a strong bond with the team.

“Magaling makisama si Coach Jeff. Biruin mo, Coach siya, siya pa yung bumababa para makasalamuha kami,” said Jerrick, who also admitted that he felt that the team had become overconfident after their title run in 2015.

“Nung, dumating si Coach Jeff, talagang mayabang kami eh. Champion team kami, buo kami eh. Kaya din siguro hindi nag-click yung next season namin. Aminado ako doon.” 

Failing to return to the Finals was a humbling experience for Jerrick but his biggest reality check came when he found out that there was a tumor inside his right ear that grew four centimeters in diameter, threatening not only his basketball career but his life.

“Humihina yung pangdinig ko dito sa right na tenga. Mga November 2017 yun. Hinayaan ko siya hanggang sa dumating yung time na tuwing gabi tapos pag gising ko, masakit yung tenga ko. Pumunta kami ng PT namin na si Doc Omar Kaslani sa EENT.”

An MRI revealed the tumor which had grown due to an ear infection that was ignored for almost a year. Jerrick desperately wanted to continue playing basketball. The Letran Knights held a 6-3 record at the end of the first round of NCAA Season 94. But, he could no longer play as a potential blow to his head could cause him to collapse.

“Kailangan ko harapin ‘to para tumibay ako.” Jerrick told himself. 

Finally, on September 7, 2018, Jerrick underwent successful brain surgery, overcoming the biggest obstacle he has ever faced in his life. 

 

A New Battle

Today, Jerrick is back on the court, an even better player than he ever was. His comeback began in January of this year when he started doubling his efforts to make up for lost time. The Letran Knights are a serious title contender with their unquestionable leader, Jerrick averaging 15.8 points per game, which is fourth best in the league. Even under new Head Coach Bonnie Tan, Jerrick knew that the team’s captaincy would be bestowed upon him. He has learned a lot from his former teammates like Mark Cruz, Kevin Racal and of course, Nambatac and Quinto with whom he became very close with. 

“Si Rey (Nambatac) yung pinaka-magandang example sa akin na Knight. Kumbaga, siya yung naging mentor ko. Sa kanya ako lumalapit. Idol ko kasi si Rey eh. Pag dating ko doon nung High School, iba talaga siya eh. Kaya pag nahihirapan ako, iniisip ko lagi, ‘gusto ko maging Rey Nambatac.’ Gusto ko, kung nasan siya, nandun ako.”

Quinto was still on the team when Jerrick was diagnosed with the tumor last season. 

“Si Bong (Quinto) kasi, sobrang maka-Diyos niya. Siya rin talaga yung nasa likod ko nung na-operahan ako. Halos ipagdasal niya pa ako sa church nila.”

Both Nambatac and Quinto are now in the PBA. While Jerrick dreams of one day joining his comrades at the highest level of basketball in the country, he knows that he still has a huge responsibility in his final year with Letran.

“Gusto ko talaga mag-champion kasi gusto ko ibalik sa Letran community yung ginawa nila sa akin na pagsama sa battle ko. Gusto ko mag-champion kami pag-exit ko dahil pag pasok ko sa college champion din ako agad. So, yun yung gusto kong iwan sa kanila,” said Jerrick.

 

Future Conquests

Jerrick Balanza’s love for the game of basketball in undeniable. But, he still considers his family as his biggest blessings. On December 21, Jerrrick will be celebrating his 8-year anniversary with Kelly and their two children, Alexandra Jerricka, who is now six years old and Amara Shayne, who is turning two years old in October. After everything he’s been through, Jerrick is confident that his life’s experiences can help him in the pursuit of his and his Family’s dreams.

“Dun naman tayo nag-ggrow eh. Sa pressure. Gusto ko rin talaga mag-PBA para sa pamilya ko at sa magulang ko. Gusto ko silang matulungan. Yung gusto nila gawin sa amin na hindi nila nagawa kahit ginawa nila yung best nila. Ako, may chance ako na gawin sa kanila.”

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