Paolo Javelona: Sticking Like Glue

Paolo Mariano on Nov 06, 2015 09:36 AM
Paolo Javelona: Sticking Like Glue
“Sobrang sarap kapag naka-stop, lalo na kapag crucial. Proud ako na ako ‘yung pinagkakatiwalaan ni Coach na bantayan ‘yung star ng kalaban." -- Paolo Javelona

There’s always a guy in every intramurals who looks like he doesn’t belong on the basketball court. He’s undersized. He’s not built well. He’s not athletic. He’s not too quick. But when the game starts, he sinks big shots and makes all the right plays. He’s unrelenting on both ends and doesn’t seem intimidated at all. After the game, he has made a believer out of everyone.

Paolo Javelona is the UAAP version of that guy.

The graduating National University (NU) guard looks like a regular kid. A boy-next-door type. With his average height, grade-school-boy hair, sleepy, slanted eyes, and braces on his teeth, he’ll pass as a team captain of the Quiz Bee Team.

“Mukha nga raw akong sakristan,” said Javelona. “Kailangan ko pa kumbinsihin ‘yung ibang tao na player ako. Pero natatawa na lang din ako.”

No one, however, would mistake Javelona for a goody-goody altar boy once he steps on the court. He’s well regarded in the league as one of the toughest, wiliest defenders. He may not be physically intimidating but he gets the job done with his tenacity and smarts—all with a smile on his cherubic face.

Trying out

The 23-year-old Javelona was born in Bacolod City. A basketball court was just right in front of their house. Naturally, he embraced the game at an early age.

“Five years old pa lang ako, nagba-basketball na ko. Naiinggit ako sa papa ko tsaka dalawang kuya ko tuwing naglalaro sila kaya lagi ako sumasama,” said Javelona.

Like a rite of passage or familial hazing, Javelona was habitually banged up by his older brothers on the court. They were a combined 15 years older than him. He couldn’t fight back. He simply accepted his fate, which came with an abundance of nudges, elbows, and cheap hits. It made him tougher and more confident against bigger players.

He tried out and got accepted to the high school team of West Negros University, the same school that produced former Ateneo de Manila University defensive pillar Nonoy Baclao and University of the Philippines (UP) burly big man Raul Soyud.

There he formed a prolific trio with Agustini Amar and Nico Capote, now with UP and Adamson University, respectively. By his senior year, Javelona was the Junior Mustangs’ go-to-guy. Then during a scouting trip in Bacolod, then-NU coaches Manny Dandan and Rico Perez got enamored with Javelona.

“Nakita nila na masipag ako tsaka may potential. Binigyan nila ako ng chance mag-tryout and sa awa ng Diyos, nagustuhan naman nila ako,” said Javelona.

But finishing high school at 16 years old, Javelona was deemed too young to play for the Bulldogs in his first year in college. He was stashed in Team B by Eric Altamirano, who took over head coaching duties. Despite not playing in the UAAP yet, he quickly learned that he had his work cut out for him.

“Unang dating ko palang (sa Manila), ibang-iba na talaga laro. Mas pisikal, mas may banggaan. Grabe rin ‘yung pressure dahil sa suporta ng mga school,” said Javelona, who flew to Manila by himself.

Tragic loss

Like most players from the province, the basketball court served as Javelona’s sanctuary. Still, he couldn’t shake off the loneliness from missing the warmth and familiarity of home.

“Tumira ako sa athletes’ dorm. Nung una, natatakot talaga ko kasi malayo ako sa pamilya ko. Nung first month ko, gusto ko na agad umuwi dahil naho-homesick ako. Pero pinush ako ng papa ko, sabi niya sayang ‘yung pinaghirapan ko kaya labanan ko na lang daw ‘yung lungkot,” said Javelona, who still lives at the athletes’ dorm today.

He made it to the Bulldogs roster in his sophomore year. Javelona, however, hardly played. He was used only when the score was already settled. A victory cigar of sorts. The next year, he was relegated back to Team B—the purgatory of college basketball.

“Halos sumuko na ko nun. Sobrang hirap, sobrang sakit. Kasi alam ko kaya ko makipagsabayan sa iba (sa UAAP),” recalled Javelona.

But his frustrations on the court became trivial when an incident happened that changed the course not only of his basketball career, but his life.

He’ll never forget that day. It was the night of January 12, 2011. Javelona was about to go to bed in the dorm room he shared with majority of the Bulldogs. He received an unexpected phone call from his mom.

“Nakikipag-inuman daw sa party ‘yung papa ko. Sabi ng mama ko kausapin ko raw para tumigil na kasi lasing na. Sabi ko, ‘Pa, tama na.’ Bulol na siya magsalita. Iba-iba ‘yung sinasabi niya. Sabi pa niya sa’kin, ‘Nandito lang ako kung may kailangan ka.’ Pero hindi ko masyado pinansin kasi nga alam ko lasing lang,” shared Javelona.

The following day, his father passed away due to a heart attack. He was only 49 years old.

“Grabe iyak ko nun. Nagwawala ako sa kuwarto, nagwawala ako kina (former teammates) Joseph Terso at (Mervin) Baloran,” said Javelona. “Seaman ‘yung papa ko, every two months lang siya umuuwi, tapos ganun pa ‘yung nangyari.”

With the tragic loss and his demotion to Team B, the once confident kid was cloaked by depression and self-doubt. Good thing, the man he considers his second father picked him up.

“Pag-uwi ko nun sa Bacolod (para sa libing), nagpaalam ako kay Coach Eric na hindi na ko babalik sa Manila. Doon na lang ako sa amin,” said Javelona. “Pero hindi niya ko pinayagan. Sabi niya, ‘Anong gagawin mo? Wala kang magandang opportunity diyan sa Bacolod. ‘Di ba ang gusto ng papa mo maglaro ka sa UAAP?’”

It proved to be the inspiration he needed. Altamirano pushed him to continue his basketball dream just as his father did when he felt homesick. He grinded it out in Team B once again the following year and renewed his confidence.

Locked in on defense

The next season, he was back finally with the Bulldogs. He became a regular part of the rotation as a back-up guard. That’s when he also locked in on being a defensive specialist.

“Akala ko hindi na ko makakalaro sa Team A. Inisip ko kung paano ako magfi-fit sa system. Inisip ko ‘yung role ko. Naisip ko hindi na namin kailangan ng opensa kasi nandun na sila Ray Parks. Kaya naisip ko sa defense na lang tumulong,” said Javelona.

He’s not a scoring dynamo like Ed Daquioag, an all-around virtuoso like Kiefer Ravena, or a physical specimen like Jeron Teng. He has limited offensive moves. He’s an average athlete at best. Most players are more talented and skilled than him. But Javelona gets heavy floor time because of his specialty: handcuffing, disrupting, in-your-face defense. He logs 25.7 minutes per game, third most on the team behind stars Gelo Alolino and Alfred Aroga.

He also makes subtle yet significant contributions that don’t appear on the stat sheet: intercepting passes, jumping out of screens, boxing out, taking charges, etc. He’s a high basketball IQ guy.

“’Yung pagkuha ng charge, instinct na lang din. Pero iniisip ko rin kung kaya (‘yung player). Kapag masyadong malaki, baka sa opsital na ko pulutin,” said Javelona in jest.

The 5-foot-11 Javelona has routinely guarded the league’s elite: Ravena, Daquioag, Teng, Mike Tolomia, Jett Manuel, name it. He sticks to them like a leech covered in adhesive tape. He’s fourth in the league in steals with 1.3 SPG. As the basketball adage goes, defense has no off-days.

“Wala namang sikreto sa defense. It’s all about discipline. Iwas sa sundot tsaka mas okay kapag nasa harap ka ng kalaban, lalo silang nabo-bother. Karamihan ayaw ng defense. Kailangan talaga ng effort tsaka willingness,” said Javelona.

Playing defense isn’t fun. It’s an unglamorous, thankless job. Fans don’t cheer for defensive players. But Javelona knows it’s his responsibility. So, he diligently studies his assignment. He wants to learn every advantage he can get, especially since he’s usually over-matched.

“Humihingi ako ng video sa coaching staff para pag-aralan favorite moves ng babantayan ko. Pinapanood ko sa phone o kaya sa TV sa dorm. Gumagawa ako ng mental notes kung saan mas mababa (percentage ng) babantayan ko,” said Javelona. “Minsan nakakatamad pero kailangan e. Para hindi ako masyado ma-bore, ang hinihingi kong video is ‘yung dating laro namin sa kalaban para napapanood ko rin sarili ko.”

“I can’t say more about his defense. You can just see it when he plays. He wouldn’t sleep. He would watch videos,” said teammate Alfred Aroga. “We all listen to him. He’s a good motivator. One of the reasons why I’ve been improving is because I talk to him all the time. He’s a super smart guy.”

To remain locked in on defense throughout the game, Javelona sets a barometer for his assignment.

“Before every game, may goal ako. ‘Hanggang eight points lang ‘to dapat, hanggang dito lang dapat ma-score niya.’ Motivation ko ‘yun para igihan ko sa pagdepensa. Kapag lumampas ‘yung bantay ko sa goal ko, asar na asar ako,” said Javelona.

Making stops

Last season, NU ended its 60-year title drought after beating Far Eastern University in the championship. It was a Cinderella run for the Bulldogs, who survived five do-or-die games to capture the crown. They made UAAP history by being the lowest seed to ever win the title.

“Hindi talaga namin in-expect. Pero lahat kami we played our role. We believed in our system and trusted each other.” said Javelona. “Bumalik sa’kin lahat ng pinagdaanan ko. Kung pinayagan akong bumalik na lang sa Bacolod, hindi sana ko nag-champion. Sobrang sarap after lahat ng hirap.”

Javelona played a big part in the conquest, most memorably in their Final Four duel with twice-to-beat Ateneo. He’s always had tough battles with Ravena, widely recognized as the best player in the league and someone who embarrasses defenders with his multitude of moves. “The Phenom” averaged 21.0 PPG in the series but he missed 44 of his 59 field goals (25.4%) due to Javelona’s straitjacketing defense.

In their first meeting this season, Javelona forced Ravena to a 7-of-26 clip. The reigning MVP, however, made cardiac baskets in crunch time to give the Blue Eagles the win in double overtime. After the game, he acknowledged the guy tagged as the “Kiefer Stopper.”

“He really gives me a hard time,” said Ravena. “Tuwing nakaka-shoot ako sa kanya, parang ang sarap ng feeling.”

While others find delight in making baskets, Javelona takes pride in manacling opponents.

“Sobrang sarap kapag naka-stop, lalo na kapag crucial. Proud ako na ako ‘yung pinagkakatiwalaan ni Coach na bantayan ‘yung star ng kalaban. Pero may pressure rin na gawin ‘yung trabaho. Sa totoo lang, gusto ko rin naman maka-score, pero iniisip ko ‘yung team as a whole, ‘yun ‘yung mas importante e,” said Javelona, who recently tallied his UAAP career-high of 14 points.

He preaches what he practices too. As one of NU’s leaders, he keeps his teammates in check when it comes to defense. In their first round game against UP, seldom-used forward Dave Yu allowed Paul Desiderio to make an easy inside basket. During the timeout, he angrily reminded Yu: “Dumepensa ka!” Yu got the stern message and played more active defense.

The work continues

Stuck in the middle of the team standings, the Bulldogs still have a chance to enter the Final Four and keep their Title-Retention Tour alive. The window, however, is fast closing.

“’Di pa namin nakukuha totoong laro namin. ‘Di pa kami katulad nung last year na talagang defensive-minded. Inconsistent kami tsaka over-complacent. Our defense isn’t as tight. But we’re working on it,” said Javelona.

Javelona has worked his way to where he is today. He has overcome belittling eye tests, humbling demotions, and a crushing personal loss. He’s still not the best player out there but he’s stuck around like the way he stubbornly sticks to his defensive assignments.

When the season ends, so will Javelona’s UAAP career. He’ll be the first to admit that he’s not ready yet for the pros. But again, he’ll work hard to make it.

“Final year ko na, gagawin ko lahat para makatulong, offense man o defense. Ano man ang mangyari, ibibigay ko lahat,” said Javelona. “Para no regrets.”

Those who said that Javelona has no business being on the court must regret it now. He may look like he can’t harm a fly. But he sure can make life miserable for opponents.

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