MANILA, Philippines - He wanted to quit when his father passed away. But National University's Alfred Aroga drew strength from his loss to soldier on.
One year later, his perseverance was rewarded as the Cameroonian big man dedicated a hard-earned UAAP Season 77 championship and Finals MVP bonus to his late father, who, before passing, predicted his son and National University would win it all.
"I'll give this to my dad," he shared amid the celebration around him following the Bulldogs' title-clinching triumph in Game 3 over Far Eastern University on Wednesday, October 15 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
"Last year I was supposed to play but I had this eligibility problem, so I was so sad and I was telling my dad that I can't play this year (Season 76) because they're saying I need to play next year because of my papers. And my dad said, 'It's okay. When you're gonna play, you guys are gonna reach the Finals.'"
The 6-foot-7 Aroga was ineligible to suit up last season for NU as the league ruled he failed to meet the two-year residency requirement for foreign players. The sudden death of his father came just a few days after the bad news over his ineligibility.
"It was so painful. I wanted to quit," Aroga bared.
"I wanted to stop basketball and go back home and stay with my mom and siblings. But for some reason, I just said I'm just gonna push myself. I'm gonna push my dream and keep on dreaming."
Aroga turned the reason for his heartache into a source of strength and motivation.
"Every time I step on the court, I just think of my late dad and I think about my siblings and my mom and that's really my motivation," he shared. "Every time I step on the court and I don't help the team to be somewhere, I feel like I failed my family."
A year later, Aroga finds himself at center-court of the Big Dome receiving the Finals MVP award for his 24 points and 18 rebounds in Game 3. He also has a championship net hanging around his neck with fans vying for a photo with him, as he basks under the glory of history as part of the team that ended NU's 60-year title drought.
"Every single second of my day is just my family. They're not here, but in my head I just have to keep on working so hard. And every time I achieve something, I'm like, 'Okay, dad. Now you can really rest in peace'," Aroga said, with his gold championship medal gleaming just below his heart.
It wasn't just his father who predicted something great for Aroga. His coach and second father Eric Altamirano also had a premonition of sorts for the 22-year old at breakfast just before the big game.
"Alfred stays with me. He's like a son to me," Altamirano shared.
"This morning after breakfast I saw him and I asked how he was feeling. He said 'I'm okay.' And I said, 'Alfred, you're going to play your best game this season.' And true enough, if you look at the stats, this is his best game this season offensively."
Throughout the season, Aroga channeled his motivation to his teammates as well. Most notably he was seen giving guard Gelo Alolino a major pep talk in the middle of their knockout Final Four game against the Ateneo Blue Eagles.
Unknown to many, Aroga does the same in practice every day.
"I feel like it's my responsibility to push them all the time because it's really important to push teammates."
Those same teammates, Aroga said, are the reason for his success.
"By the grace of God, I'm the Finals MVP but not because I'm the best player of the team, but because of my teammates. I'm really thankful."
Aroga's family could not make the trip to the Philippines - with his siblings studying and his mother working back in Cameroon. Which is why despite the slew of celebrations likely awaiting him, the family man has only a Skype date in his mind.
"The way I'm gonna enjoy my championship is to go home, Skype with them the whole night, have fun and enjoy even though I can't hug them. But talking to them, I'm at peace." – Rappler.com