Since entering De La Salle’s senior varsity program in 2016, Aljun Melecio has been a go-to guy for the Green Archers.
Melecio, now 22, was named league MVP by the UAAP in his final high school season with De La Salle Zobel, then exceeded lofty expectations from the college hoops community by winning Rookie of the Year and helping lead DLSU to a title over rival Ateneo as a freshman.
The middle child of 3 boys, Melecio was unnerved by the high-stakes and pressure-packed atmosphere of an Ateneo-La Salle finals, which was unsurprising since he had been watching the Archers and Eagles go head-to-head from a young age.
“Before ako pumunta ng Manila,” Melecio recalled to Rappler, “nanonood na ako sa TV ng basketball. Yung nakikita ko [lagi] was green and blue. Sobrang daming tao!”
(Before I came to Manila, I’ve been watching basketball on TV. I always see the green and blue. There’s always a big crowd!)
At one point, Melecio’s father, Jun, asked which of the two schools his son would select if given the chance.
“Sabi ko, ‘Siguro sa blue, kasi favorite color ko blue,’” remembered Melecio. “Pero sabi ng dad ko, ‘Hindi, mas okay sa green.’ Sabi ko, ‘Sige, green na lang ako.’”
(I said I wanted to join the blue team because my favorite color is blue. But my dad said, ‘No, green is better.’ So I said, ‘Okay, I’ll go with the green team.’)
And from there, the universe set his path.
Melecio and his older brother Aleck began developing a keen interest in basketball as young boys, which was why Jun decided to bring them on a five-hour trip from their hometown Bukidnon to Manila to watch a PBA game live at the Araneta Coliseum in Cubao.
One of the teams they saw play was Air21, which at that point had a young talented gunslinger in Ren-Ren Ritualo, who won 4 UAAP championships with La Salle in the UAAP and was regarded by the alumni as the most accomplished Green Archer in history.
Along with Kurt Bachmann, Lim Eng Beng, Illa Santos, and Ian Lariba, Ritualo’s jersey hangs retired at DLSU’s Enrique Razon Sports Complex.
“Palabas na siya ng Araneta,” Melecio, who was 6 years old at the time, remembered as he finally saw Ritualo in person.
“Sabi ng dad ko na magpa-picture ako, so nag pa-picture din siya.”
(He was heading out of Araneta. My dad said we should have a picture taken with him.)
Melecio was already an avid fan of Ritualo after watching him drain shots from long distance with La Salle and the Philippine team, but was too shy to ask for tips on improving his game.
“Nahiya pa ako. Hindi pa ako marunong mag Tagalog noon,” Melecio said, laughing.
(I was still shy. I didn’t know how to speak Tagalog then.)
When asked about the picture, Ritualo told Rappler he was glad to leave a positive impression on the young man who would one day have the same responsibility he did as a Green Archer.
“I’m happy that I inspire other players to be the best that they can be at a young age,” said Ritualo.
When Melecio entered the UAAP seniors division more than a decade later, he was once again eager to learn tips from Ritualo, but chose not to approach him because the former La Salle stalwart was an assistant coach for the Adamson Soaring Falcons, one of DLSU’s rivals for the league title.
Now that Ritualo is no longer with Adamson, Melecio might finally get his chance.
Back to the present
Melecio and the Green Archers returned to the UAAP Finals in 2017 but failed to defend their crown against the Blue Eagles, who exacted revenge in an epic three-game series.
After playing with little to no pressure behind veterans Jeron Teng and Thomas Torres in his first year, Melecio faced a heavier burden as La Salle’s starting point guard during a sophomore campaign where he was sidelined for weeks by dengue fever.
Melecio had a new coach in his third season under Louie Gonzales, who replaced Aldin Ayo after the latter departed for UST. Although La Salle would miss the Final Four in 2018, Melecio said he still cherishes the lessons he learned from Gonzales about “life.”
His fourth season, however, was “challenging” because of the slower and half court-oriented system under consultant Jermaine Byrd, although he claims to be thankful for the help he received from head coach Gian Nazario nonetheless.
When college basketball hopefully returns next year, Melecio will play for his fourth head coach under DLSU alumnus Derrick Pumaren, who has a history of leading the Green Archers to UAAP championships.
So far, Melecio has been thrilled by the style of play Pumaren wants the Archers to operate with.
“Super exciting kasi hindi mo alam ano mangyayari eh,” Melecio explained. “Yung pace ng laro, ‘yun yung pace na sanay ako noong pag pasok ko sa college – takbuhan talaga, press, at defense. Dapat ‘di ka pagod. Kung pagod ka, umupo ka.”
(It’s exciting because you don’t know what will happen. The pace of the game, it’s the pace I’m used to when I entered college – running, press, defense. You shouldn’t be tired. If you can’t keep up, better sit down.)
About to play his final season before going to the pro level, Melecio has been tasked by his new mentor to portray smarter decision-making on the basketball court.
To make it simple: “Sabi niya na, ‘Wag na larong bata.’
“For me, totoo naman eh na hindi pa ako disciplined. Hindi ako masyado nag-iisip. Basta gusto ko, gagawin ko, which is not good, kasi dapat din talaga pag-iisipan kung ano yung gagawin.”
(Coach said I shouldn’t be childish. For me, it holds true because I’m not disciplined yet. I don’t really think. I just do what I want, which is not good because you really have to think before you act on something.)
Nonetheless, Pumaren still wants Melecio to stay true to himself, which is a good idea, considering the La Salle standout’s reputation as one of today’s best young hoopers.
“The good thing is, sinasabi ni coach na laruin ko lang yung game ko, pero marami na akong lessons na learn na maging more responsible sa gusto kong gawin,” said Melecio.
(The good thing is, coach said I should stick to my game, but I also learned a lot of lessons to be more responsible in what I do.)
The most important question for him to ask now is this:
“Makakatulong ba sa team?” (Will it help the team?)
For Ritualo, Melecio only needs to worry about two important things:
“Continue to work hard and never ever quit.” – Rappler.com