|The Letran Knights poses in front of the camera along with Rev. Fr. Clarence Marquez, O.P., Rector and President of Letran and Head Coach Bonnie Tan at the Press Launch of the 95th Season of the NCAA at the Mall of Asia Arena. Xy-Zha Cabanlong|
By Xy-Zha Cabanlong
PASAY CITY - In the middle of NCAA Season 94, Letran Knight Jerrick Balanza was forced to hang up his jersey due to a brain tumor that tested not only his faith but his character.
On whether he will still be able to play the game after his surgery or will he be retiring from the sport at an early age was a hanging question.
Letran called for help in his behalf, to aide his operation and medication, proving that unity does exist in the sport of basketball.
Rivals did not matter when Balanza faced the said ordeal as San Beda, along with the other member schools of the NCAA, extended a helping hand.
Just like a true Knight, Balanza fought hard and recovered well, came out at his hundred percent to be with the team in the pre-season preparations and is more than ready to put his game face on as the 95th season opens on Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
"Sobra-sobrang excited. Talagang gusto ko nga, bukas na agad yung game ko kasi syempre naghanda din naman ako para dito sa season na to. Crucial din kasi talaga dahil last season ko na," said the Letran captain.
Balanza worked really hard for him to get back into shape, but with caution.
His return to basketball was guided by a physical therapist and a conditioning coach who tailored-fit a program that is meant for him.
He attributed his comeback to them for helping him out to create a better version of him.
"Pinaghirapan ko yung sarili ko and nanghingi ako ng tulong sa PT and conditioning coach ko. Kila Coach Iggy and Doc Kevin – sila yung nag-implement ng program para sa akin para hindi ako mabigla," Balanza said.
Balanza, a former Letran Squire, has nothing but love for Letran that he aims to focus on giving back to the school by doing his best, both in playing and in trying to motivate his teammates to do better in each game that they will play in the league.
"Di ako umalis dahil ganun ko kamahal yung Letran, so ngayon pa kaya na last year ko. Pumasok ako ng college [na] champion ako agad, 2015 and gusto ko mag-exit na champion ulet," said Balanza.
Giving the 18th championship banner to Letran is on top of Balanza's priority as he picks up where he left off from last season's run.
This time, however, there will be no JP Calvo nor Bong Quinto to joint force with him in this goal.
But he has the likes of Bon-Bon Batiller, Larry Muyang and Jeo Ambohot to rally with him, along with four rookies on whom he has nothing but good words to say.
"Okay naman, mababait naman sila. Saka masisipag, ayun ang maganda dun lalo na marunong sila makinig. Yun naman importante sa player, kahit di ka magaling kung marunong kang makinig, willing ka matuto – ganun yun," the shooting guard assessed.
Balanza also mentioned that it has never been a challenge to him or to his teammates to adjust in the system of their new head coach, Bonnie Tan, who succeeded Jeff Napa at the helm.
"Hindi naman ako nahirapan mag-adjust kay Coach Bonnie kasi last season, part na rin sya ng team namin. Yung relationship namin, hindi naman mahirap, yung system nya hindi rin naman ganun ka-hirap para sa amin dahil yung system nya lalo na pagdating say defense, mejo okay naman. Sa offense lang, ayun, yung bagong implement nya na system, nakuha naman namin kasi magaling naman si Coach Bonnie na mag-latag ng sistema nya," he narrated.
As they face last season's runners-up Lyceum Pirates on opening day, Jerrick and the rest of the Knights are hoping that they could avenge their heartbreaking final four defeat from the same team.
"[I’m looking forward na] syempre makabawi sa Lyceum kasi sila yung naglaglag sa atin sa Final 4. Andun ako nun sa gilid, nanunuod ako nun kung pano nila tayo natalo. Ngayon, may opportunity ako na makabawi sa kanila, yung mga kuya ko [Quinto and Calvo] di na makakabawi sa kanila so ako ang gagawa,' Balanza said with all confidence.
In parting, Balanza thinks that the Red Lions will continue to be Letran's toughest roadblock this season but was also quick enough to say that they only need to face them in order for him and the rest of the team to gauge how far they can go against their arch-nemesis.
"San Beda kasi, buong off season, di namin nakalaban so pag nakalaban namin sila dito sa NCAA, dun natin malalaman kung hanggang saan na yung nararating ng grupo namin," he said
The Letran community definitely has something to look forward to beyond the first game of the season - seeing a fallen Knight like Jerrick Balanza, rising up and bouncing back from an ordeal to heed on the call for supremacy, pride, honour and the much-anticipated 18th title for their beloved Colegio.
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