MANILA, Philippines – The Letran Knights had everything going great for them in the first round of the NCAA Season 94.
They held a 6-3 record, tied with the St. Benilde Blazers for third place. Team captain Bong Quinto ended the round on fire with not one, but two straight triple-doubles. Prior to Quinto’s eruption, they gave a legitimate scare to the defending champion and bitter rival San Beda Red Lions, which ultimately ended in a 76-80 overtime loss.
But before their second-round opener against the Arellano Chiefs, the Knights received terrible news seemingly out of nowhere.
Key rotation man Jerrick Balanza was ruled out for the entire season after getting diagnosed with a brain tumor that required immediate surgery. Just like that, their string of good fortune was over.
However, the Knights fought back in a big way, drubbing the playoff-hunting Arellano Chiefs, 99-82, for Balanza, who is also celebrating his 22nd birthday on Thursday, September 6.
After the game, the do-it-all big man Quinto – who wore Balanza’s jersey during the warmups – shared that the ailing forward's absence only motivated them more to push for their first playoff appearance since their championship win in 2015.
“Para sa akin, mabigat yung pagpasok namin ng second round kasi unang-una wala si Jerrick,” he told reporters. “Pero ang importante dito yung kalusugan niya eh. Di na namin iniisip yung wala siya sa court. Naging dagdag encouragement, motivation para maglaro kami as a team.”
(For me, our entry to the second round was heavy because first of all, we don’t have Jerrick. But what’s important here is his health. We’re not even thinking that he’s not on the court. It just added encouragement and motivation for us to play as a team.)
Head coach Jeff Napa likewise focused on the task at hand, but still kept Balanza in his thoughts.
“Yung panalong to siyempre, malaking bagay para sa amin,” he said. “At least, maso-solidify namin yung ranking namin. Di kami maiiwan nung dalawang nasa taas (Lyceum and San Beda). Yun talaga yung main purpose namin dito.”
“Yung game na ‘to siyempre, dine-dedicate namin kay Jerrick na birthday niya ngayon,” he continued.
(This win is big for us. At least, we solidified our rankings and we won’t be left out by the teams on top. That’s really our main purpose here. Of course, we dedicate this game to Jerrick, who’s celebrating his birthday today.)
Indeed, Balanza made up for his absence on the court by being the team’s biggest cheerleader off it.
Let's go boys! #ArribaLetran #NCAASeason94 #GalingNCAA — Jerrick Balanza (@Iamjerrick07) September 6, 2018
He also penned a letter explaining his situation and thanking the school and his supporters:
Arriba to my fellow Letranites and to all our friends and supporters!
It is with a heavy heart that I share with you this news: Recently, I have been diagnosed with a brain tumor and will have to undergo surgery as soon as possible.
This doubly saddens me because I will no longer be able to continue playing for the Knights, this NCAA Season 94.
I am very thankful for the support of my school – the Dominican priests, the lay officials, and the people who have showed love and care, including those on social media. It motivates me to keep faith, to be brave, to overcome this current challenge in my life.
I am filled with the Arriba Spirit: raising my prayers to God, asking Him to raise my body and soul in healing, and lifting the morale of our Letran community. As our coaches always say: Never give up! Never give in!
I am grateful for those who are helping me, spiritually, financially, morally. My only request is for everyone – especially my fellow Letranites – to pray for me, to pray with me, for my healing and recovery and return to active play.
I am very happy, despite the challenges, especially to have my Alma Mater, Letran, the school whose name I have carried since high school, backing me up, encouraging me to get well, to have a speedy recovery. I will always remember this moment.
Salamat po, mahal kong Letran! Sobrang sarap maging Letranista! Siempre Arriba!
Balanza’s surgery originally cost P800,000, but Letran found a doctor and alumnus who cut the price to P500,000. Still, this is a massive amount. For those who want to donate for his operation costs, here are the details:
Branch: BDO Intramuros
Account Name: Colegio de San Juan de Letran, Inc.
Account Number: 4500003129
Balanza finished Season 94 with averages of 7.4 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists. If ever he returns to playing collegiate basketball, he will suit up for his final season as a Knight next year.
Hopefully, this will all be but a minor setback and he’ll be back on his feet in no time. – Rappler.com