“I don’t know who came up with that!” laughs Alaska Ace Dondon Hontiveros, when asked on the origin of his nickname of “Cebuano Hotshot”. “I wasn’t even the only Cebuano playing when that nickname became popular!” Hontiveros muses for a while before sharing, “When I have a bad night on the court, my cousin calls me ‘fun shot’!”
With his family, he’s just a regular guy, one who can be counted on to bring pasalubong when he’s in town, and who can be told to pick up dinner when it’s time for dinner. In short, Hontiveros has none of the airs that one would associate with his level of stardom. In a way, it’s give and take, says Hontiveros, who saying that the precious time he gets to spend with his loved ones is all he needs to feel like a “senyorito”.
Self-effacing, humble, and blessed with an impeccable work ethic, Hontiveros has spent the last eighteen years carving out a place for himself in the annals of Philippine basketball that anyone would be proud of. Today serving as the Alaska Aces’ resident sharpshooter, he is the fourth member of the league’s 1000 Three Points Club, as well as a multiple championship winner and national team member. But it didn’t come easy for the so-called “Hotshot”.
In high school, despite a strong desire to be on the varsity team, Hontiveros wasn’t tall enough to make the cut, telling PlayPH, “Maliit pa ako nun, naglalaro lang ako sa intrams, so my goal was to really make it to the team and show them my skills and experience.” Citing the perseverance and sacrifice that went into chasing his dream, Hontiveros says, “I tried to make it a point to practice, staying late to do some extra work. Slowly, my height caught up, and, in third year, I was a part of the team.”
But extra time on the court didn’t mean time away from his books, as the young cager balanced his academic responsibilities with his athletics. “In Don Bosco, we prioritized our studies – you wouldn’t be allowed on the team if you didn’t have a certain average that you had to maintain. So my goal was to maintain good grades because there were no scholarships in Don Bosco…education was our priority.”
Hontiveros would practice three times a week, devoting his weekends to practicing outside, where he could hone his skills playing against older kids. The experience he got playing against bigger opponents would prove invaluable when he and his fellow 16-year old teammates found themselves facing off against 18-19 year olds in competition.
“It was a whole other playing field when I got to college,” says Hontiveros, whose drive to improve himself never wavered. “As it got harder and harder, the values I learned in high school, I applied them in college. When I graduated (from high school) I had to try out for my slot on the college team, and even if I made it, I had no guarantee of playing time. And if I had that playing time, I had no guarantee of being part of a semi-professional, or a professional team. It’s something every player who started (playing) as a kid has gone through when they graduate to the next level, that question: ‘Can you go farther, to the next level? Or will you settle here?’ When you’re passionate about something, you will do anything to get yourself into a position to get better – even if it’s hard, you’ll enjoy it because you’re helping yourself.”
It was during his college years that Hontiveros would get his initial experience at earning from his chosen sport, playing for the Metropolitan Basketball Association’s (MBA) Cebu Gems while still enrolled in school. “After my second year in college, that was the first time I played in a commercial team in Cebu, and the allowance we got was PHP 25 per day, PHP 10 per practice. Then when I got recruited to play commercial, it was my first time to get a real salary, something like PHP 4,500 a month. That was when I told my mom I would start helping with the expenses.”
As the Gems took part in more tournaments, people started recognizing Hontiveros, who was all too happy to give out tickets to his friends and neighbors (“our tickets were free – we just wanted people to watch!”) At around the same time, he began attracting the attention of those who would become his first batch of fans. “At first, it was awkward, I used to just ride home with my dad on his motorcycle – I didn’t want him to wait! It got to the point that people would be waiting for me at school, it was embarrassing!
The adoration continued when he entered PBA, by which point, Hontiveros had learned to better handle his newfound fame: “When I became a PBA player, it became more important to show appreciation and thank them for their support. Many of them became my friends over the years, became like family.”
In the PBA, Hontiveros would make his most lasting mark, first with the Tanduay Rhum Masters, and then the San Miguel Beermen, with whom he won titles in 2005 and 2009 before serving with Air21 Express and the Petron Blaze Boosters. Today, the Hotshot flies with the Alaska Aces, having won the PBA Commissioners’ Cup with them in 2013, in addition to high profile stints with the Philippine National team in 2002, 2007, 2011, and 2015.
After 16 years in the PBA, Hontiveros looks forward to the day when he will trade in his jersey for a whistle, following in the footsteps of friends like Olsen (Racela), who became coaches after concluding their on-court careers. For the time being, he’s honing his mentoring skills by coaching in Alaska Camps in locations like Cebu and Bukidnon, where he said the experience is made worthwhile by the knowledge that he is having an impact on future athletes, whom he hopes to motivate and inspire in the way he was inspired.
“When I was 12 years old, my goal was to make it to the PBA. I was small, but in a way, it motivated me. The impact of the older guys on me was that I improved because of their example. It wasn’t to copy them, but what I learned from them was what I needed to have a long career in the PBA, which was to work every single day, continue to learn – it doesn’t matter if you’re new in the PBA or about to retire – you go to practice every single day with the intention of getting better. And now that the role (of player I used to look up to) has gone to me, I must have done something good.”