Mikee Reyes on Sep 04, 2015 09:01 PM
"To all the newcomers of the league, never forget that you were once a kid dreaming of making it to the big league. Just like most of us, you were just a kid getting laughed at for having such a dream. Guess what? You’re here now. Enjoy the moment. Embrace the process. Cherish the experiences. There will be ups and downs, I guarantee. But whatever happens from here on out? Everything, absolutely everything, is a blessing." -- Mikee Reyes

With the UAAP fever in full swing, you can’t help but get excited for the new season. It’s been a long wait, especially since the league is starting later than usual this year. Students, alumni and fans have been giddy for a while now.

With the emergence of the NU Bulldogs as last year’s champion, a lot of questions are to be answered and storylines to unfold. Will the Bulldogs repeat? Can Kiefer end his college career with a ring? Can Jeron get his second? Will an intact FEU line-up get what, they feel, is rightfully theirs? This year will be unpredictable and we all have a lot of reasons to be excited about. That’s just how much fun the UAAP is.

Along with all these questions that we want answers to, there are also a lot of new faces and new players that we are looking forward to watching. Throughout the whole off-season, a lot of talk and hype were put into several new players that have established themselves back in high school. With the entry of these young blood, we are all anxious and curious to see if their games can be as effective in the college level.

Now that these rookies are about to perform on a national stage, the journey they had to embark to get here is often overlooked. A lot of work was put in to be able to finally reach the highest level of college basketball. Being able to play in the UAAP or NCAA is often underrated. Just being there means you’re definitely somebody. The opportunity to wear your school uniform under the bright lights of Araneta or MOA has been a lifelong dream for all these young players. Trust me, I know. I was once there.

I’m not here to tell you what I had to go through to get to there or what I had to do to deserve a spot in a UAAP team. Gasgas na yun eh. As kids, we all dreamt of getting there. Yes, we all worked hard. Man, some even worked harder than us, but still didn’t make it. Breaks - players need breaks to be able to really show what they can do.

Looking past all the minutes, hours, days, months and years of trying to get better, you just have to look back and appreciate the blessing of being a part of the UAAP. When I reminisce to the first time the league was introduced to me to how it felt days before my first official UAAP game? Crazy how things panned out.

Being an Atenean during my grade school days, I was just in love with basketball. The Ateneo Grade School campus is filled with basketball courts and we used to play during recess, lunch and even dismissal time. It was just a sport that everyone loved. Whether you were considered good at it or not, you played and had fun with your classmates and schoolmates.

I remember when I was in Grade 2, I walked into campus seeing all these tarpaulins that read, “ONE BIG FIGHT!” I remember laughing to myself and with my classmates like, “Sino kaaway nila?”.

After seeing all these paraphernalia scattered around campus, our teacher told us to line up outside our classroom. While everyone was excited and giddy because, well, just leaving the classroom was fun as a kid, we were all curious as to where we were headed. As we walked out of grade school grounds, I saw a glimpse of the Blue Eagle Gym and you could already hear the drums and people screaming from where we were. I remember walking and just hoping and praying that that was where we were going. When we turned to the entrance of the gym, I was just ecstatic. I can recall running up the stairs and being at awe at the sea of blue shirts that filled the whole arena.

We took our seats as the Blue Babble Battalion ran to the floor. Everyone responded to their cheers and as kids, nagwwild nadin kami. I, personally, was on a high because this was my first time to witness such a crowd. After a few minutes, a basketball team stormed onto the court and everyone just went berserk. I was there, speechless, trying to figure everything out. What team was this? Obviously it was an Ateneo team, but the only team I knew at that time and all I wanted was to make the Ateneo Milo Small Basketeers of the Philippines team. Apparently, there was team higher than the SBP?

On that day, I was introduced to the UAAP. I immediately became a fan of the Blue Eagles. On my way home, I was already telling my dad I was going to play in the big league someday. I told him to book it! At this point, my journey to the UAAP began.

FYI, my first taste of an Ateneo uniform came the following year when I made the SBP team. I remember being given number 5 and quickly checking who was wearing it for the Blue Eagles. Epok Quimpo! Being the little kid that I was, okay. Sakto! LOL

As I grew older, I continued to watch the UAAP. Although I was a Blue Eagle fan, I was in awe of the Green Archers. At first, I hated La Salle. Well, maybe because we were trained to do so, but man, this bald headed guy with high socks was just too fun to watch! Yes, I fell in love with Mike Cortez from the day I first watched him play. It was love at first sight. Man, I started wearing high socks during games! No, it didn’t have to be an official game, I’d wear them for recess and lunch pick-up games. Yes, thinking about it now, I looked dumb as hell, but I didn’t care. I wanted to be like The Cool Cat. I wanted to be like Mike!

I became the biggest Green Archer fan in an Ateneo uniform during my latter years in grade school. Renren Ritualo, Mike Cortez, Mac Mac Cardona, Joseph Yeo, Mac Cuan, Mon Jose, Willie Wilson? All these with Franz Pumaren’s pressure defense? Come on! I was Animo-ing my final years in Ateneo. LOL. In all seriousness, the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry during those years was unmatched. I was never the kid who was in an Ateneo shirt screaming his head off every single game, but my dreams of making it there was as real as it was. Slowly though, I wanted to become a Green Archer more than I wanted to be a Blue Eagle.

When I transferred to La Salle Greenhills for high school, it was more of the same. Only now, the dream became a goal. I was more serious about getting there. Throughout my highschool career, I watched a new breed of players that took over the league. I was a big fan of TY Tang and JV Casio. I remember during, I think, my junior year, I saw that Paul Lee crossover. And of course, I started practicing that move everyday during training! I remember watching that Maui Villanueva tip in off an LA Revilla miss in the LSGH cafeteria and we all just went nuts! All these moments just pushed me more because I also wanted my own UAAP moment.

Everything about the UAAP just excited me. As you grow older and as you realize your potential, you become more addicted to the thought of playing in Araneta.  It was like going to college was just secondary to making it to the UAAP. Don’t quote me on that though. LOL

Obviously, I didn’t wear blue nor green in college. Numerous factors added up and I ended up elsewhere. However, I consider myself, to this day, blessed to be a UP Fighting Maroon.

The transition from the high school game to the college game was intense. It took time before I could get used to the physicality, the speed and the IQ needed to be effective in college. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a phenom entering college kasi. LOL. What sucks though is you tend to be really focused on getting better that you forget to take everything in. Sometimes you need to sit back and appreciate where life has taken you.

From that fateful day in Grade 2 to La Salle Greenhills and finally to the UP Gym, the journey was definitely a crazy ride. We’re only talking about the time from when I was a kid to the my first UAAP game too! We haven’t even talked about the journey through college. Maybe that deserves another article?

I’m now an alumnus of the UAAP. I have crossed that out of my life long to-do list. That went by fast. I think I blinked too long, huh?

I remember living with my fellow rookies, Mark Juruena and Mo Gingerich, trying to figure out where our classes were at. I was just in practice getting pushed and shoved by the likes Woody Co, Magi Sison and Kevin Astorga. Getting hit by Miggy Maniego, Mark Lopez and Alvin Padilla was never fun, but being able to talk to Martin Reyes about the struggle was. Shooting around with Mike Silungan was always tough and challenging. Well, it was just as tough as getting screamed at by Coach Aboy Castro, Coach Boyet Fernandez, Coach Ricky Dandan and Coach Rey Madrid. From all those moments to trying to share a point or two to my successors in Henry Asilum, Diego Dario and Jarrell Lim. I’d also miss looking at Gelo Vito and Andrew Harris for a split second and they’d already know I needed a screen.

As much as UP, the UAAP will always be a big part of me. Yes, there is basketball after college, but no, it will never be the same.

We have a lot of rookies entering the scene this coming season. We have a big time name in Andrei Caracut, we have Nieto twins coming to play for Ateneo and a number of guys with different stories as to how they got to the UAAP. With everything taken to the side, appreciate what you’ve been through. How you got here. Now, take everything in. Appreciate the experience, the journey. Just like me, it’ll go by fast. Never forget to have fun and enjoy the whole process. At the end of the day, the journey will always be more important than the destination.

To all the newcomers of the league, never forget that you were once a kid dreaming of making it to the big league. Just like most of us, you were just a kid getting laughed at for having such a dream. Guess what? You’re here now. Enjoy the moment. Embrace the process. Cherish the experiences. There will be ups and downs, I guarantee. But whatever happens from here on out? Everything, absolutely everything, is a blessing.

Congratulations on making it and best of luck this season, and for the rest of all your careers!

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