MANILA, Philippines – Not even sports movies could have scripted this one any better.
Emilio Aguinaldo College did not open NCAA Season 94 like it had hoped. The Generals were winless in 4 games, the most painful recently happening right on their own home floor, 74-76,against Perpetual Help.
It was enough reason for head coach Ariel Sison to contemplate on resigning. But he hadn’t announced it to his players yet.
Then out of nowhere, in a seemingly uneventful contest against playoff contender San Sebastian, the Generals took the Stags to the limit and squeezed out a 79-77 win in overtime, ending their 4-game losing streak on Friday, August 3.
The game hero? John Paul “JP” Maguliano.
Yes, we don’t blame you if you don’t know him. Almost no one did prior to this day.
In one of the season's early surprises, a tryout walk-in who had averaged 2.3 points and 5.7 rebounds in 3 games dropped 30 points and 17 boards in 36 minutes off the bench to will his team to the stunning victory.
Maguliano shot 11-of-16 (69%) from the field, 8-of-9 (89%) from the free throw line, fouled just once and turned the ball over only once as well.
All that, and he didn’t even see the court in their last 46-61 thrashing loss against defending champion San Beda.
A guy who got rejected from the Adamson Falcons roster just saved his coach’s job, too. However, in his best moment yet in his collegiate career, he deflected praises to his team.
“Masaya po [sa pakiramdam] kasi sa kabila ng lahat ng pagkatalo namin, nanalo kami,” said the soft-spoken forward. “Sabi ni coach, kailangan din naming manalo kasi goal naming makapasok sa Final 4.”
(It feels great because despite all our losses, we finally won. Coach said that we have to win because it’s our goal to enter the Final 4.)
Although Sison hyped up his players’ hopes, deep inside, he was already at his last straw.
“Just to be honest with you, I thought last night, 'If I will not win today, I will resign,'” Sison shared in the post-game presser. “That’s the least thing that I can do so that the team will win. Di ko alam kung paano kami nanalo. Basta nanalo kami, yun na lang.”
(I don’t know how we won. All I know is we won, that’s it.)
“Talagang morale-boosting ‘to sa amin, lalo na sa akin,” he continued. “Talagang di ko alam kung anong gagawin ko just to make sure na mananalo kami. Pero sabi ko nga sa mga bata, yung nagpa-practice nga tayo, di tayo nananalo. Ngayon pa ba tayo titigil magpraktis na di [nga] tayo nananalo? Lalo tayong tuluy-tuloy lang magpraktis. Manalo, matalo, basta yung mind natin ilagay natin palagi sa game, sa training.”
(This is really morale-boosting for us, especially to me. I really don’t know what else to do just to make sure that we would win. But I said to my boys, we were losing even when we were practicing. Do we stop practicing especially now that we keep losing? More than ever, let’s just keep on practicing. Win or lose, let’s put our minds in the game and in training.)
For now, Sison has held off his departure for another day.
“Ang sa akin lang naman, yung school eh,” he said. “Gusto kong manalo yung team. Kung di ko kayang maipanalo, then someone else will be doing that for us. That’s the most important thing, for the school to win.”
(For me, it’s just about the school. I want the team to win. If I can’t do it for them, then someone else will be doing that for us.)
As for Maguliano, he’ll use this overnight Cinderella run to prove all those who doubted him wrong.
“Mahirap kasi maraming nagsasabing 'Ang laki-laki mo tapos di mo ginagamit,'” he said. “Kaya nagpursige ako, tapos thank God, eto na ngayon.”
(It was difficult because many kept telling me, 'You’re so big but you cannot use your size.' So I persevered and thank God, here I am today.)
JP Maguliano, EAC Generals. Remember the name. – Rappler.com