ROY Melecio shows guts of steel in first UAAP finals game

Naveen Ganglani
ROY Melecio shows guts of steel in first UAAP finals game

Josh Albelda/RAPPLER

The La Salle rookie gives Ateneo a glimpse of what’s to come, not just for this series but also for years to come

MANILA, Philippines – In what was a blockbuster affair which involved drama, suspense, physicality, and everything else you’d expect from a finals matchup between the Ateneo Blue Eagles and DLSU Green Archers, it felt like what UAAP Rookie of the Year Aljun Melecio contributed to his team’s 67-65 Game 1 win went under the radar.

Melecio had 12 points, all on his 4-of-7 shooting from downtown while adding 4 rebounds despite being the smallest player on the court every time he checked in. 

His contribution wasn’t as conspicuous as Ben Mbala’s 20 points and 15 boards, nor was it as headline-grabbing as the heroics of Jeron Teng, who had 10 points but also hit the game-winning shot and had the game-clinching block.

Melecio, who showed the poise of a fifth-year veteran in his first ever finals game – an Ateneo-La Salle one at that – was just as impactful.

“At first before the game, super kinabahan ako, kasi nga first time ko mag (I was really nervous, because it was my first) finals, Ateneo-La Salle,” Melecio said after the game.

“Just take good shots,” was what La Salle coach Aldin Ayo told his star freshman before tip-off. “Good decision-making. Tapos laruin mo yung paano ka mag laro. Parang normal game lang naman (Then play how you usually play. That’s just like a normal game.)

In his first season as a Green Archer, Melecio has built a reputation as a fearless outside gunner who is undeterred by the big moments. If anything, the former UAAP juniors MVP embraces the critical situations and is willing to live with the consequences of his decision-making.

On Saturday, December 3, Melecio gave the Blue Eagles a preview of what’s to come not just for this series but also for the next 4 years that he’s eligible to play for La Salle.

It wasn’t just that Melecio hit the most 3-pointers from anyone in that game. It was also the timing of when he did. 

His 3-ball in the first half allowed the Green Archers to maintain their lead in the midst of an Ateneo rally and take a 36-26 lead into the break. His next 3 3-pointers in the final two quarters came when La Salle even more desperately needed them.

With 3:03 left in the third period, Ateneo made the dire mistake of leaving Melecio wide open from the left wing. It’s lead at 47-44, the rookie put La Salle back up by 6, turned around, and raised a finger to silence the boisterous Blue Eagles crowd. 

Nainis lang ako. Ang ingay nila eh,” Melecio later said about the gesture.

(I was annoyed. They were noisy.)

With the game tied at 52 and 8:40 remaining in the final period, Melecio used a dribble to the left to get open and then banked in a triple to half Ateneo’s momentum again.

And then with 4:31 to go, the Blue Eagles left Melecio free another time, and he responded by drilling another 3-ball to put La Salle ahead 63-59, paving the way for Mbala and Teng to close out the game.

Sinasabi lang ni coach na (Coach just says to) just play your game, play defense, and good decision-making sa (on) offense.”

Melecio wasn’t perfect. His defense needs improving, and it was capitalized on by Ateneo sophomore Matt Nieto who drew a foul on the DLSU guard while hitting the shot which put the Eagles ahead 65-64 with 34.6 to go. Had it not been for Ateneo’s turnovers and Teng’s play down the stretch, the discussion today might be different.

Siguro parang it’s a lesson for me na rin, na parang actually sa totoo lang, sa last possession, parang may bad decision making ako ginawa. So next game, siguro mag improve lang ako,” he said.

(I guess it’s also a lesson for me, because to be honest, on that last possession, I made a bad decision. So for the next game, I’ll just improve.)

Fortunately for the Green Archers, the ball bounced to their favor, and while Melecio is still far from becoming the next “King Archer,” all signs point to him achieving that feat soon enough.

For now, Ateneo might want to consider not leaving him open anymore. –

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