by Luigi Jacinto
When you’re a teenage boy with hoop dreams in a large school, life starts out in a stump. Before my glory days as San Beda’s point guard – I was a benchwarmer averaging 8.9 high-fives on an average.
Life on the bench goes two ways: either you’re a frustrated player who gets all stubborn after each quarter passes, or you have the mindset of a secret weapon your team has yet to unleash. My story goes through both paths, and I must say that the transition wasn’t swift at all.
I wasn’t on the bench all throughout my basketball stint. Before that, I was the go-to scoring forward for my school’s division three team, which meant we were two levels down the big leagues. But everyone knows that being the big fish in a little pond doesn’t necessarily get you anywhere.
2009 was the year I put on my big-boy pants.
They wanted me to play point guard because everyone else on the squad much taller and stronger. Now, you have to understand that playing for San Beda felt like a privilege for kids who loved basketball, it was just a thing back then. With that effect on me, I’d take anything—even if it meant my having to learn a whole new position.
On our team, there were two other floor generals: The one who started the most games had three years under his belt and the latter was a talented athletic guard who could explode off the bench. And then there was me, the rookie turnover who was still struggling to switch positions.
My first practice with the team went a bit like this: I was on the defensive against the starting guard. Starting guard calls for a double screen from two giants and I hit hard during the first screen. When the second screen arrived, I just fainted from the collision.
It was a painful but fulfilling moment with a clear message saying: “Welcome to the big leagues.”
The NCAA season started and we were entering the tournament as the defending champions. My first game felt totally different from the hundreds I’d played before. There were loud drums, a bigger crowd, and some of the best players you’ll ever see in a high school ball game. To my surprise, I was never called upon to enter the game.
Not one minute.
As more games passed, and I found myself watching them all from the sidelines, it became a bit taxing on my end. Couldn’t the coaches see what I was capable of? Wasn’t I good enough to be on the floor?
I started to start skip practice because of this. And during the times that I did show up, I was the laziest one there. We reached the finals and won our third straight title, but I was still serving water and high-fives across the sidelines.
It wasn’t until 2010 when I started to change the way I treated the game. It began with me changing a few bad habits. For instance, I’d make 50 free throws before practice and 50 more when everybody’d gone home. So that when the chance arrived that I’d enter the game and had to shoot from the stripe, I would be on automatic.
Free throws turned into mid-range jumpers that turned into three’s, and before I knew it, I was shooting a decent percentage from anywhere on the court. I also began to smile more during training. This may sound a bit odd, but keeping a positive attitude affects everyone on the team, which made me noticeable – even without the ball in my hands!
Most importantly, I had learned to keep an open mind.
Keeping an open mind meant that I knew when to swallow my pride and ask the two other super-talented guards on ways to improve; I’d spend hours asking them questions on how to correct certain aspects of my game. Behind the boisterous vibe of each game, I discovered the way to become better at basketball was a lot of humility.
And then it happened.
I started getting a few minutes each game. More often than not, coaches would put me in during the final two minutes of regulation—when we’d gained an enormous lead over the opponent. This moment in the game was especially dedicated to bench players so that their starters could get some early rest. It stayed like this for the rest of the season.
Here’s when things really started to get interesting. During my third season, I was by default, promoted to be the backup point guard. This meant I’d finally be getting precious minutes on the floor. It’s an exciting but nervous feeling all at the same time.
During the five-minute mark of our first game that season, my name was called. My plan was to play safe and make the least mistakes possible. I made a three-pointer right away, and went off to miss the next five attempts later on but what a pleasure it was to be out on the court.
Playing time began to come my way, and I was playing with more confidence each outing. You’d see me screaming out instructions on top of the banging drums and crowd chatter. At some point of the game, I’d be gathering up my teammates for a short huddle while players were shooting free throws. The bottom line was: I was a new and improved player, on and off the court.
During my last year I was named the starting point guard and led a very young San Beda team to our sixth championship. It was a far cry from four years ago when I was a benchwarmer with an empty stat line, a stubborn attitude, and a lazy work ethic.
Today, I am a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu coach to a team composed of men and women aged 20-40. I’ve left the game of basketball but brought with me something more important than any skill, a handful of valuable lessons to be passed on to my students. Be patient, hardworking, and keep an open mind – and you will be a successful athlete anywhere.