LA Tenorio: The Unassuming but Deserving Iron Man

Marco Benitez on Mar 24, 2019 02:51 PM
LA Tenorio: The Unassuming but Deserving Iron Man
"What I admire the most from knowing him all these years, is that regardless of the achievements he’s garnered throughout his career, he has remained the same humble, down-to-earth guy I’ve known and had the privilege of being teammates with back in college." - Marco Benitez on former teammate LA Tenorio.

In 1999, Ateneo de Manila University lost their best homegrown point guard to rival De La Salle University in what was one of the most talked about transfers at that time. Little did they know that this setback would turn out as a blessing in disguise, as this made them take a hard look at their recruitment program, and two years down the road, land one of the best point guards in high school, Lewis Alfred Tenorio of San Beda.

When he first joined the team fresh off a stellar high school career with the Red Cubs, there was no question about LA’s talent. Coming in as a reed thin (some may even say scrawny), 5’9” point guard into the college ranks, his frame did not command a lot of second looks. What was noticeable though, were his large hands and size 12 sneakers, extraordinary for a guy his size. The moment he put the ball on the floor, you could immediately see there was something special in this teenager from Batangas. Those tremendous hands allowed him to weave the basketball like they were a part of him. His footwork and ability to change direction at full speed, were unlike any I’d seen at that time. While he wasn’t the fastest in a full-on sprint, there was no one like him when it came to shifting gears, pulling back, and exploding forward.

I will never forget how we tried our very best to stay in front of him on defense back then. Whenever you thought that you had played good D and cut off his move, he always had a counter. Always. He could simply get to where he wanted to on the floor, anytime he wanted; and if you thought you had forced him to take an outside shot, it was really because he wanted to take that step back jumper, and not because that was the only option you left him.

Truth be told, if there was one thing we couldn’t solve my first two years with the team, it was that dreaded La Salle full court press. It was the stuff of nightmares. But when LA came along, even as a freshman, I distinctly remember how we started breaking that man-to-man press: Coach Joe Lipa simply told us to give the ball to LA and let him break it. He did, nine times out of ten.

LA always had that competitive fire in him, and that confidence. It was on full display in the Finals against La Salle in 2001. He was a rookie then, but he exploded for 32 points in a stellar display of shot-making (Yes, that was probably also the first time his patented reverse layup was shown on national TV). That was and still is the best performance by a rookie in a UAAP Finals I’ve ever seen. Though we lost that series and La Salle won their fourth straight title, LA cemented his name as one of college’s best point guards.

Fast forward to today, 598 consecutive games into his 13th year in the PBA. LA now holds the Ironman record for most consecutive games. He’s not missed a game since he injured his hand back in 2002, the year we won a championship. That was 17 years ago. Let that sink in for a moment. Seventeen years, 597 professional games, countless practices, not to mention multiple stints with the Gilas, including the FIBA World Cup. That’s just unheard of.

Yet when I asked him, ever one to deflect praise for himself, LA says there is no secret. According to him he does the same thing every other professional athlete does: works hard, plays hard, stays disciplined with his workouts, practices and recovery time, and just enjoys the game. But he is the first to admit that it’s really a miracle God has blessed him with. That’s classic LA.

What I admire the most from knowing him all these years, is that regardless of the achievements he’s garnered throughout his career, he has remained the same humble, down-to-earth guy I’ve known and had the privilege of being teammates with back in college. He has always loved and enjoyed playing the game. He’s one of the fiercest competitors I know; ever willing to take the winning shot – and boy has he proven that many times in his career. He’s said as much, saying that the competition and the opportunity to learn something new every day in practice is what keeps him motivated. But at the same time, he still manages to find time to impart wisdom to the younger generation of basketball players through his basketball camps and his foundation.

If you ask him, he will say that back then as that skinny kid from San Beda moving to Ateneo and playing in the UAAP, that he would never in his wildest dreams imagine what he would be able to achieve in his career. True to form, he credits all his coaches and teammates who have supported him and helped him along his career. He credits his family, whom he says is his biggest motivation to keep exceling. Most especially, he thanks God because he believes firmly that this is all His doing.

As a friend and former teammate, I guess that is what I’m most proud of. Not just the hall of fame career he’s built in the PBA and the various stints with the national team; but more importantly, the life he has built for his family and the legacy he has set for the next generation of basketball players in the country; all the while staying grounded to his roots and unwavering in his faith. Never change, LA. I cannot think of anyone as deserving to hold the distinction of PBA’s newest Ironman.

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