Devance, playing through pain, refuses to let Ginebra down
MANILA, Philippines – Recent nights have been somewhat different for Joe Devance. He searches for sleep with an ice pack on his left foot, the dull but still painful throbbing making itself known in the dark. When morning comes, he gets out of bed, and limps through the rest of his day.
On game days, amid a brutal every-other-day semifinals schedule in the 2017 PBA Philippine Cup, his pre-match rituals now include an injection of anesthetic – so he could wage battle alongside his teammates, instead of watching them from the bench.
These are the sacrifices Devance is making out of loyalty to his Barangay Ginebra comrades, in light of the foot injury he suffered in the quarterfinals.
“It’s really about, I can’t let my teammates down. You know? I mean, I love these guys so much. I know they would do the same if it was them. And…,” Devance told Rappler, drawing to a pause in search of the right words.
“I’m just… I get kind of emotional just thinking about it because it’s truly painful… I just love these guys so much, man. I just don’t want to let them down. And it’s all that it really comes down to. I just don’t want to let these guys down.”
Devance has gone above and beyond for the Gin Kings in these semifinals against rival Star Hotshots despite the pain he has had to endure day in and day out.
He’s put up 26 points in 4 semifinals games and came through for Ginebra in a must-win Game 6, pouring all 14 of his points in a pivotal third quarter run that spelled the end for Star.
Looking at Devance on the court, it’s quite clear he is far from his usual self. But he’s managed to play for an average of over 14 minutes, and more to the point has contributed some numbers considering he might as well be walking up and down the court and is a liability on defense.
“I was pretty frustrated because I was getting called for a lot of fouls and stuff like that. And they were fouls. I was pushing off and stuff like that but just because of my foot. I feel crippled out there, you know,” Devance said, his usual jovial expression clouded by a one of frustration.
But it’s not just that he’s scoring amid pain that’s making his battle impressive. It’s the fact that his presence alone on the floor is inspiring his teammates.
“Joe's been an inspiration to us. He's still taking shots (injection). He had to take two shots, he took a shot and then went to warm up, and then he had pain and he had to come back in and take another shot. Maybe, 3 or 4 minutes before tip-off,” head coach Tim Cone explained after Game 6 what Devance has been going through.
“It's one of those really long needles, he's putting it all the way to the bone inside the foot. It's not a little shot in the arm. It's right in the injury. It makes me get goosebumps everytime I watch it.”
“I’m not sure if we can continue to do this. We're gonna try it one more game, and if we make it, he's gonna have to sit out a couple of games, and if we don't, he'll have time to rest,” he added.
“But we'll try to do it one more time. But he's been an inspiration to everybody, with his resolve and his ability to keep on battling.”
Devance, who turned 35 on the day of Game 6, is aware of the emotional and psychological impact of his presence.
He’d been told he’s inspired Ginebra players, but really, his teammates inspire him.
“You know, Jerv (Jervy Cruz) told me he’s inspired by me, Chris Ellis, Sol (Mercado), everybody, all the guys. They inspire me, to be honest,” he said. “If I inspire them, that’s great, but they inspire me. They inspire me to be better, to be a better basketball player for them so I’m truly thankful for that.”
It’s the strength he draws from his teammates that helps him deal with his injury and the difficulty of fulfilling his role as team captain at a crucial time.
“I’m not going to quit even though I’m frustrated. I had to tell myself, too. Like don’t show your frustration. I kind of felt like I was, and I just told myself don’t show any frustration right now. It’s not the time for that,” he shared.
“The guys are looking at me. I’m the one that kind of pumps these guys up. If I let down on that, I just can’t do that right now.”
More fuel for Devance is the faith Cone has in him. They’ve been through 3 teams together over the years and by now, Devance sees Cone as “the best coach” he’s ever had and “a father figure” who “teaches life through the game of basketball.”
So even if he has to take more shots before Game 7, he will do it. The doctors said he only needs rest, not surgery, and that his injury cannot get any worse because it's already torn, although Devance certainly feels like the pain is intesifying. He made the effort, though, to untie his shoe laces and show Rappler the blood bleeding through a couple of bandaids on his left heel.
But he will play on and trudge on, even if he has to hobble up and down the court, epitomizing the meaning of the team's "Never Say Die" mantra.
He will take the pain, because Devance is made of far tougher stuff. He is, after all, the same player who bravely accepted news of his father’s death moments before a game last season, wept for a while, then set out to play.
“Even if we lose, as long as I did my best, everything I could to help these guys win, and to help these guys just get better at basketball and get better as a person, I mean, I’ve done my job.” – Rappler.com