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Greener pasture

Julius Manicad



The past couple of weeks saw a handful of college players hop from one school to another.

Dave Ildefonso moved from National University (NU) back to Ateneo de Manila University while Will Gozum transferred to College of Saint Benilde following a pair of forgettable seasons at University of the Philippines (UP).

Rising star Evan Nelle also transferred, moving from San Beda University to De La Salle University days after the Green Archers lost promising rookie Joel Cagulangan to another school.

La Salle also clinched the services of Luke Sese from University of Perpetual Help System Dalta while Malick Diouf of Senegal will get a chance to play against his former coach in Derrick Pumaren when he transferred from Centro Escolar University to UP.

Well, moving from one school to another is nothing new.

Collegiate basketball is overflowing with stories of players who found success in a different school.

The greatest examples are Robert Bolick and CJ Perez — the playmakers who figured in a heated rivalry in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) before blossoming into stalwarts for their respective teams in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) and key members of Gilas Pilipinas.

Actually, Bolick was tipped to become a star.

He entered La Salle as a promising rookie following a very successful season for La Salle Green Hills in the juniors division, where he exploded for 41 points in his final season.

But things didn’t go on as planned.

Bolick found himself buried under the bench with star players like Jeron Teng, Almond Vosotros, Oda Tampus, Luigi de la Paz and LA Revilla getting the lion’s share of the minutes.

With that, he walked away from La Salle until finding an opening at San Beda, which was then looking for playmaker to replace the graduating Baser Amer.

It was a match made in basketball heaven.

After serving a one-year residency in 2015, Bolick played with fire in his eyes and powered the Red Lions to their first title since 2014 and sixth championship in seven years.

The following year, he had another strong performance and was on his way to win the Most Valuable Player award until he got involved in an on-court scuffle that threw him out of the game. Still, the Lions claimed a title and Bolick became an icon in San Beda community due to his hunger, intensity and, yes, blonde mustache that could give that of Larry Bird a run for its money.

Simply put, Bolick started his collegiate career as a towel boy sitting at the end of the bench, but ended it as a hero armed with a scissor to cut down the net.

He entered the PBA after being tapped as the third overall pick in the 2018 Rookie Draft by NorthPort and landed a handsome contract that completely changed his fortune.

His odyssey is pretty similar to that of Perez.

Perez was part of the powerhouse cast of Pampanga players who made the jump to San Sebastian College through basketball patron Dennis Pineda. Also in that group were future PBA players Ian Sanggalang and Calvin Abueva as well as Dexter Maiquez and Ronald Pascual.

But after three years with the Stags, Pineda and his group had a falling out with the school, prompting Perez to pack his bags for Ateneo.

The partnership didn’t work.

Despite having putting up a strong performance in minor leagues, Perez failed to see a single minute for the Blue Eagles in the UAAP as he suffered academic problems topped with the return of star player Thirdy Ravena.

With that, Perez moved to Lyceum of the Philippines University, which was being handled by a close friend in Topex Robinson.

Perez found success at Lyceum.

After redshirting for a year, he powered the Pirates to a perfect 18-0 record in the eliminations before being foiled by Bolick and the Red Lions in the best-of-three finals. He returned the following season, but San Beda again trounced Lyceum in the finals to complete a three-peat.

Still, Perez emerged as the top overall pick in the 2018 PBA Rookie Draft and displayed a gallant performance for Gilas Pilipinas during the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) World Cup in China last year.

I don’t see anything wrong hopping with from one school to another. Sure, the amateur nature and loyalty of college players would be put into question, but we have to understand that the lifespan of their collegiate career is very short — five years to be exact.

With that, the room for error is very small and they can’t afford to have lapse in decision-making since it could either make or break their athletic careers. One wrong decision — and one massive injury — could completely doom everything that they built right from the very moment they touched a basketball.

They have to put those five challenging years of their collegiate career to good use.

PBA players offer various success stories.

Had Bolick decided to keep on riding the bench at La Salle or had Perez opted to go back to Pampanga rather than join his friend, Robinson, at Lyceum, their fate could have been different. They won’t surely become the professional players we admire now and heroes of Gilas Pilipinas in the FIBA World Cup.

But they still persevered.

They turned adversities into opportunities and refused to back down from the challenges that came their way.

Ildefonso, Nelle, Cagulangan, Sese, Diouf and other collegiate basketball defectors can pick up a lesson or two from Bolick and Perez. They should never stop believing and keep on trying.

They should never quit in their quest for a greener pasture.

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