The Growling Tiger unfairly ridiculed in social media as the Second Most Hated Person in the Philippines (next to Janet Lim-Napoles) is bent on redeeming himself.
Swingman Aljon Mariano knows the gravity of his errors in judgment in Game 3 of the UAAP men’s basketball finals, which helped the De La Salle Green Archers to walk away with the title.
But the 6’3″ Mariano, who was playing with an ankle injury, vowed to get back into shape and come back stronger next season.
“Gusto kong patunayan na karapat-dapat pa rin akong pagkatiwalaan,” he said.
Mariano knows he has a lot to work on – maturity and decision-making included – especially in the last 6.1 seconds of Game 3.
Why, for instance, did he take that last shot in regulation that could have secured the win for the Tigers? The play, he admitted, was intended for hot-shooting Karim Abdul, who would eventually score a game-high 26 points.
“Originally, play kasi talaga namin ‘yun kay Karim, ‘yun ‘yung first option namin, e na-deny si Karim kaya ako na ang lumabas, kinuha ko na yung bola,” Mariano said.
“Clear shot naman ang tira ko, ‘di lang talaga nag-shoot. Kahit ako akala ko shoot na e. Sabi ng iba, dapat nag-drive ako kasi penalty [ang La Salle], pero expected na rin kasi nila na magda-drive ako kaya nag-step back ako.”
With less than 30 seconds left in overtime, Mariano threw an errant pass to Kevin Ferrer after collaring the rebound off a Jeron Teng missed freethrow. The Growling Tigers were ahead, 69-68, before Almond Vosotros drained a baseline jumper that sealed the win for La Salle.
“’Yung bato ko kay Kevin na nag-out, ‘di naman dahil sa pressure. Inexpect ko na magfo-foul ang La Salle kasi nasa corner ako, ita-trap ako, for sure double team na ‘yun,” Mariano said. “Nagka-miscommunication kami ni Ferrer. Bago pumasok ng court nagkatinginan na kami, akala niya forward ‘yung pasa ako pero toward naman.”
Mariano recognized his mistakes, but admitted he was hurt by criticisms coming from his fellow Thomasians.
“Sorry kasi ‘di namin nakuha ‘yung championship na halos hawak na namin…Syempre, unang una, nasaktan ako kasi kapuwa ko taga UST ang nagsasabi sa’kin. Naglalaro lang naman ako para sa UST, para manalo tayo. Nung una, masakit. Nung after nga ng game wala akong mukhang maiharap sa UST,” he said.
Still, Mariano knows that coming back from being sixth seed to Finals contender – overcoming top-seeded National University twice and five-time defending champion Ateneo de Manila University along the way – was something to be proud of and grateful for.
“Proud pa rin kami sa team namin. Nung una, number six kami, ang daming na-injure pero nakabalik kami. Parang walang naniniwala sa’min, pre-season palang ‘di na kami considered na contender,” Mariano said.
“After the three-game losing streak, nag-regroup kami, three consecutive wins. Sa Final Four, sabi nila La Salle-NU o FEU-NU na sa Finals pero na-overcome namin lahat ‘yun.”
The heartbreak may have caused remorse, but it also came with all the lessons.
“Marami akong natutunan, ‘di lang sa basketball kundi sa decision-making. ‘Pag nag-take ka ng risk, ‘di mo alam kung ano’ng mangyayari,” Mariano said. “‘Pag panalo, masaya, ‘pag talo, matututo ka kasi mas alam mo na ang gagawin [next time].”
“Sa PCCL, sa’min ang championship. Kailangan naming i-defend ‘yun para kahit paano, ma-redeem namin ang UST,” he added. “’Di pa naman tapos, babalik kami next year kaya sana sama-sama pa rin, suportahan pa rin kami.” Alexis U. Cerado