MANILA, Philippines – Jerrick Balanza did not think he would play basketball ever again.
Ten months ago, the Letran Knights swingman prematurely ended his run in the NCAA Season 94 after it was discovered that he had a brain tumor that needed immediate surgery.
Fast forward to the present and the new team captain has come full circle, dropping a collegiate career-high 31 points in Letran’s first win for Season 95 against host school Arellano University.
The 22-year-old swingman looked nothing like the thinned-out guy in street clothes cheering for his team in last season’s run to the Final Four. With the game neck-and-neck until the 4th quarter, Balanza took matters into his own hands, creating separation with a personal 11-3 run. Barreling drives, side-step layups, pull-up threes, you name it, he did it.
That was the only opening the Knights needed to charge ahead for the hard-earned 81-72 win.
“Sobrang saya talaga dahil noong una naman, noong nandoon ako sa pinagdadaanan ko, di ko akalain na makakabalik ako eh,” the soft-spoken leader shared after the game. “Di ko na na-eexpect ang lahat nang ‘to na mangyayari ‘to na mananalo kami.”
(I’m so happy because at first, when I was in that hard place, I didn’t think I’d come back. I wasn’t able to expect all of this happening and that we’d win.)
After the successful surgery, Balanza had to recover for 6 months before he was finally allowed to suit up again for Letran in its PBA D-League campaign.
There, he quickly proved that he never lost a step as he recorded a career-best 34 points last April against no less than the UAAP’s UST Growling Tigers and his former head coach Aldin Ayo.
After proving to himself that he shouldn’t fear the renewed physicality of collegiate basketball, Letran head coach Bonnie Tan put him right back to work with an even bigger role.
“As I’ve said before, I’m blessed with this team with talented players, so Jerrick can play 1 (point guard), 2 (shooting guard) and 3 (small forward). He’s a versatile player who can do it all and can also play defense,” he said.
As for Balanza, he’s more than willing to do whatever it takes in his final year to bring one more championship back home.
“Okay naman sa akin, kasi sa practice di naman nagkulang yung coaches ko na paalalahanan ako kung anong dapat kong gawin,” he said. “So every game, night before the game pa lang, siyempre nire-ready ko na yung sarili ko. Alam ko na kung gaano kalaki yung gagampanan ko sa team.”
(It’s okay for me, because in practice, my coaches didn’t lack in reminding me what I need to do. So every game, the night before the game even, I’m of course readying myself. I know how big a role I have in this team.)
After all, Balanza already went through hell and back in just 10 months’ time. Six months of basketball is nothing compared to what he already went through.