MANILA, Philippines – Athletes look at the court as a battlefield. It is where they execute their game plan to destroy the enemy and put on full display the product of their grueling practice sessions.
At the sound of the final buzzer, the game is over; it's either win or lose.
But for athletes like Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraw Arvin Tolentino, there was a time when leaving the court meant stepping back into a far bigger battle: life.
When he was 12, Tolentino had no idea how basketball could change his life. He was happy just playing streetball and loitering in basketball courts in Angono, Rizal.
He didn't even dream of making it big in sports. Fortunately, his father had big dreams for him.
Tolentino lived a simple life with only his father working as a chicken gaffer – someone who ties chicken feet in cockfights – while his mother stayed at home to take care of them.
"A friend of my dad said he wanted to train me. He told [my dad] that basketball is good because you get to have a scholarship," said Tolentino. "My dad agreed."
Tolentino really had no choice.
"My two older sisters were going to college that time so my parents didn't have money to send me to school," he said.
For 6 months, he had to wake up at 4 am to train. He didn't like it. The only way to wake him up was with a splash of water on the face.
In just a year, Tolentino was already the talk of the town.
Tolentino was scouted to play for coach Eric Altamirano's National Basketball Training Center (NBTC). He had no basketball shoes at that time and his family didn't have extra money to buy him a pair. He endured wearing shoes two sizes smaller.
"My dad's size is 10 and mine was 12," said Tolentino, laughing while remembering the past. "I had to wear it. It was so hard to play."
The then 13-year-old Tolentino pushed himself to play despite the pain because he wanted to help his family.
Various schools were starting to take notice of Tolentino, like Xavier School and the University of the Philippines (UP).
For 3 months, he trained with UP and was invited to work with Xavier as well, but his family didn't have enough money to sustain his transportation expenses.
"I wanted to go to Xavier and UP at the same time but we couldn't afford to go to both schools then go back home to Rizal," Tolentino said.
At that time, San Beda in Taytay, Rizal relayed its interest in Tolentino and offered him a full scholarship.
"It was the best choice because they offered me a scholarship and the school is just near our home. For two years, I played for team B and then when I got into 3rd year, I played in the NCAA," he said.
Going up the ladder
Lady luck was finally on Tolentino's side as he represented the Philippines in the Youth Games and was recruited by the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles.
Tolentino only stayed in Ateneo for two years because he did not meet the academic requirement. But he considers it a blessing in disguise as he feels more at home with FEU.
"I didn't make the grading cut in Ateneo but that's okay because I feel so welcomed here [in FEU]. I’m already close with my teammates and our bond is already strong despite being with each other for just a few months," he said.
Tolentino believes the Tamaraws have a good shot at winning in the upcoming UAAP, given their spectacular performance in the Filoil Flying V preseason league with a 5-1 record.
Tolentino, a Sports Management student, is a crucial member of the team, as seen in their recent win against Adamson University where he posted a game-high double-double of 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Tolentino is bursting with gratitude for what he has right now.
"I really thank God because we had nothing before, even simple jeepney fares. But now, we're being blessed with so many things," he said.
"I'm also happy I'm able to help," he added.
Tolentino is ecstatic to share that his two sisters have already graduated from college. His parents are also doing way better than before.
"I'm thankful. I really am," Tolentino said, smiling. "I get to help my family and pursue my passion. It's something I really treasure." – Rappler.com