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MANILA, Philippines – The UP Fighting Maroons went into the UAAP Season 82 facing intense hype, and so far, they have delivered.
Despite underwhelming stretches from former Mythical Five members Ricci Rivero and Juan Gomez de Liaño, the Maroons leaned on reigning Most Valuable Player Bright Akhuetie and highly-touted transferee Kobe Paras to finish the first round at second place with a 5-2 record. (UAAP Season 82: Team standings, scores)
Away from the spotlight of these big names, however, another Maroon has quietly established himself as a surefire X-factor: Javi Gomez de Liaño.
Time and time again, whenever UP needed a quick scoring punch off the bench, the older GDL brother delivered, translating to averages of 12.3 points in just under 22 minutes a game.
Because of this, Gomez de Liaño feels like he can help beyond the confines of collegiate leagues in the future as a part of Gilas Pilipinas.
“Honestly, everyone in the Gilas pool is really good and talented, but I’d love to be a part of the pool,” he said. “Because ever since Under-16, Under-17, Under-18, 3×3 youth, I’ve always been cut last. Obviously, I use that as motivation to work harder and hopefully one day, the coaches will see and include me in the pool.”
For someone averaging 12.3 points, such a claim is not as outrageous as it seems. While his numbers are not eye-popping in quantity, he makes up for it in quality.
With half the season done, Gomez de Liaño has maintained shooting splits of 59% inside the arc (19/32), 43% from three (12/28) and 52% overall (31/60).
He currently leads all players who have made at least 10 three-pointers in efficiency, with La Salle gunner Aljun Melecio (16/41 – 39%) coming in at a close second.
Even his overall shooting is nothing to scoff at. Only FEU big man Barkley Ebona (62% – 23/37) and UE forward Neil Tolentino (53% – 26/49) are shooting better than Gomez de Liaño in the category of local players who have made at least 20 field goals this season.
With the numbers backing him up, Gomez de Liaño just wants a chance to represent the flag in the near future. His teammates almost got their shot, as Paras, Rivero, and his brother, Juan, were recently a part of the dissolved Gilas amateur pool for the 2019 SEA Games.
Even if returning national team head coach Tim Cone ultimately went for an all-PBA squad to wear the Gilas colors in the regional biennial meet, Gomez de Liaño is still hoping to get noticed in future pools.
“If they get me, I’m really thankful for that, even if it’s just an open tryout, I just really wanna show what I’ve got,” he said. “Honestly, UP is a really good team and we’re stacked with some superstars. But hopefully, they can also look at the way I play.”
Standing at 6-foot-5, the sweet-shooting forward currently fits the mold of tall, mobile snipers quickly filling up the elite rungs of the international basketball scene.
To prove his point in adapting to the times, Gomez de Liaño shed 20 pounds in the offseason and clearly, this has worked wonders for him so far.
“At my height, for other countries, this is just like their point guard, shooting guard,” he said. “I know I’ve been working hard to adapt to that position because it’s really a big advantage. I can defend multiple positions and I have the skill set for it.”
“That’s my transition ever since high school to college,” he continued. “When I was in high school, I could only play as big man. But I know I can’t make it to the pros in the future if I don’t adjust and evolve my game.”
Time will tell if the powers-that-be give Javi Gomez de Liaño a crack at the national team. And with the future of Philippine basketball evolving day by day, it’s never a bad idea to give passion a platform for production. – Rappler.com