MANILA, Philippines – Although it’s rare, there can be times when talented basketball prospects go under the radar because of certain reasons.
That doesn’t mean they can’t be impactful when they eventually get the opportunity to play in the big leagues, which is still a strong possibility for new La Salle recruit EJ Gollena.
The 6-foot-3, 19-year-old wingman will be eligible to play in UAAP Season 86 for the Green Archers after a one-year residency, which he will serve as he transferred from Lyceum to DLSU.
“It started as a dream since high school, passing by Taft when going to places in Manila. I always said to myself that, ‘Soon, I’ll study and play for that school,’” he told Rappler during an exclusive interview.
Gollena lives in Las Pinas, where he grew up and attended Augustinian Abbey School, a private high school in BF Resort Village. It was the same school attended by Francis “LeBron” Lopez before he moved to La Salle Green Hills and then Ateneo High School.
Gollena was recruited by Augustinian the same season Lopez departed.
“I am a hustle player, I love crashing the boards, hustling for loose balls and defending players well. I also love to slash and penetrate to the basket,” he said about his playing style.
Gollena wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school due to little exposure but chose to enroll at Lyceum of the Philippines University in 2021. He said that due to the pandemic, he opted to focus on his studies and did not get the chance to try out or be part of Lyceum’s NCAA varsity program.
“When I started playing for Phenom Championship Clinic in leagues like Got Skills, I got the chance to be recruited by other schools. I planned to work my way to try out for DLSU but then in God’s perfect timing and blessing, I got scouted and eventually recruited.”
Phenom Championship is a rising grassroots basketball program that showcases a multitude of players, including those who recently committed to DLSU, such as Jonnel Policarpio, Mur Alao, and Earl Abadam.
“I’m adapting well in the transition of high school basketball to college basketball,” he shared.
“I’m learning lots of things from the veterans of the team like kuya Joaqui Manuel, kuya Mark Nonoy and many more.”
“I’m more and more improving day by day and I’m always grateful for the experience and opportunity given to me by DLSU,” he said. “I cannot wait to bring my hustle and energy playing for the green and white.”
Gollena is aware playing time will have to be earned because of DLSU’s deep talent pool. The Green Archers, who hope to compete for a UAAP championship later this year, have a handful of veteran players in the latter stages of their playing years, but also have multiple young prospects to eventually take their spots.
Their new standout from Las Pinas is soaking everything head coach Derrick Pumaren is teaching him for the chance to improve every single day.
“Coach Derrick is a great coach. He will correct you every time you do something wrong in the plays, especially on defense,” he said. “I learned a lot from him in terms of basketball IQ, since college and high school basketball are very different.” – Rappler.com