Balanza expects Letran to 'play like a champion' vs Lyceum
MANILA, Philippines – Letran's Jerrick Balanza may have been missing out on the court, but he's just as excited as the Knights take on last season's runners-up Lyceum Pirates in the NCAA Season 94 Final Four on Friday, October 26.
Balanza – who's still recovering from a brain tumor surgery – still makes an effort to attend practice regularly even though he has yet to be cleared to do any physical activity.
"Pumupunta ako ng practice tuwing morning. Then game din, pumupunta ako ng game kasi ako, excited na ako, gusto ko na maglaro. Pag practice nga may bola lang ako sa giild nagdrdribble lang ako," shared Balanza.
(I go to practice every morning. Then I go to the games too because I'm so excited, I want to play already. When there's practice, I just have a ball with me and I'm just dribbling at the side.)
Since their 2015 title romp under former head coach Aldin Ayo, the Knights have been struggling to get back on top as they fell out of Final Four contention in the last two seasons.
Now that they're back in the top four, Balanza believes his teammates can overcome Lyceum's twice-to-beat advantage as the Knights dealt one of the PIrates' 3 losses this season.
"Summer pa lang pagkabuo ng team, iyon na ‘yung naging goal namin, tinatarget namin iyon every practice," Balanza told Rappler. "Tapos we practice like a champion. Every game, we play like a champion, so ['yung gagawin lang namin] is iclciaim nalang namin, di ba?"
(When we formed the team during the summer, that was already our goal. We target the title every practice. Then we practice like a champion, every game we play like a champion, so all we have to do is claim the championship, right?)
Last Wednesday, Balanza graced the Chooks-To-Go Phenom Cup organized by Kiefer Ravena, who held the birthday golf tournament to raise funds for the Letran player's medical expenses and for the family of late barker Rolly Manlapaz.
Balanza said he never felt any more grateful to one of the athletes he has idolized in the Philippine basketball scene.
"Sobrang nakakatouch talaga kasi kapwa mong athlete, nagmamalasakit sa iyo, parang professional na po tapos bababa sila sa amin sa college para tulungan kami. Nakaka-overwhelm talaga."
(It's really touching because a fellow athlete is caring for you, and he's already a professional but he still reached out to us at the college level just to help us. It's so overwhelming.)
The Letran starter believes he will be cleared to play by January 2019 as his biopsy result was benign.
And Balanza will be ready to give it all next year when he gets back to a likely wide-open race with the graduation of several league stars like San Beda's Robert Bolick and Lyceum's CJ Perez.
"Papahirapan ko ‘yung sarili ko kasi alam ko na pagdating ko sa season ulit, hindi naman magiging madali ang lahat ng babasag sa amin, babato sa amin ng kalaban, so mas maganda na magprepare ako sa mahirap na sitwasyon para pag dating sa game, ready na ako," added the cager.
(I'll make sure to work harder because I know by the time the next season comes, all our opponents will just get tougher so it's better if I prepared for a difficult situation so that when game day comes, I'm ready.) – Rappler.com