Philippine basketball

Meet Rex Villanueva, Batang Tiaong’s pint-sized star

Rob Andrew Dongiapon

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Meet Rex Villanueva, Batang Tiaong’s pint-sized star

STANDOUT. Batang Tiaong guard Rex Villanueva in action in the NBTC tournament.

Batang Tiaong Basketball/Steve Marion Photography

‘I want to prove that we can compete against anyone,’ says diminutive guard Rex Villanueva, who impressed in the NBTC along with his team, surprise semifinalist Batang Tiaong of Quezon

MANILA, Philippines – Size does matter in basketball, but for those who were never blessed with natural gifts, size measures in their hearts. 

The same can be said for Batang Tiaong’s Rex Villanueva, who left lasting impressions in the 2024 NBTC National Finals.

Still growing at 5-foot-6, Villanueva was one of Batang Tiaong’s key pieces in the NBTC tournament that saw them rule South Luzon in the regional finals, upset the Jared Bahay-led Sacred Heart-Ateneo de Cebu, and put up a gallant fight against the top high school stars of the Fil-Am Nation Select

“[We] always leave it all in the court. We have no regrets after everything,” said Villanueva, who hit 4 three-pointers for 12 points in their narrow 81-72 semifinal loss against the Fil-Ams on Friday, March 22. 

Villanueva guarded the likes of Andy Gemao, Jacob Bayla, and Caelum Harris throughout the game, soaring past expectations for a guard his size to lead Batang Tiaong to a breakthrough Final Four finish this year. 

Undersized in comparison to his matchups, the pride of Quezon proved he was as dangerous as anyone. He used his quick feet to shut off drives, his active arms to deflect passes, and his fiery touch to challenge the defense with his shooting threat to play more than 27 minutes in the loss. 

With his prolific touch from long range, Villanueva even drilled two treys in the fourth quarter as Batang Tiaong mounted a last-minute stand against the Fil-Ams that eventually fell short. 

“I want to prove that we can compete against anyone,” the pint-sized guard said. “They are just names. We’re both humans. We can play offense and defense too.”

Villanueva, a Grade 11 student, averaged 11.3 points and 2.3 rebounds on an impressive 31.8% shooting from beyond the arc. His best game came against PPG Tarlac, where he notched 25 markers on 8 three-pointers. 

“It was not surprising to see him play like that, Maybe for others it was surprising, but not for us,” said Batang Tiaong head coach and founder Rexember Baldeo, who turned Tiaong, Quezon’s grassroots basketball program into one of the most successful in the country. 

“His shooting is exceptional. I’ve seen him work on it everyday in Quezon, and people in our towns respected him for that,” he added. 

Villanueva was a household name in Quezon’s local leagues, dominating across age groups with his shooting craft. He turned heads in 2020 as he joined Batang Tiaong’s program, which was then only starting to get off the ground.

With his lack of size, the biggest knock on him may have been his defense, but for coach Baldeo, what matters is his vigor on that end. 

“They say he was a liability on defense, but I see his willingness and heart to play against bigger opponents. For me, that’s the most important thing,” Baldeo said. 

Barring assumptions from his physical tools, Villanueva aims to continue to prove doubters wrong and perhaps even land a spot in some of the top universities for his college career.

“This NBTC [stint] really means a lot to me. It was a great experience to play against some of the best [high school] players,” he said. 

“I just need to keep working hard and continue to earn the trust of the coaches.” – 

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