After brain surgery, 2-time champ Balanza never stopped believing
MANILA, Philippines – There was a time when Jerrick Balanza thought his basketball career was over.
After the NCAA first round last season, the Letran Knights forward discovered that he had a brain tumor that would turn deadly if he did not undergo immediate surgery.
The 23-year-old then had no choice but to go under the knife and subsequently miss the rest of his fourth season, including the Final Four.
All those troubles, though, seem like a thing of the distant past now as Balanza capped off his collegiate career with his second NCAA men's basketball championship after the Knights survived a cardiac three-game series against archrivals San Beda Red Lions. (READ: Letran ends San Beda reign, captures NCAA crown)
Since being stuck in the stands watching his team get demolished by the Lyceum Pirates in last season’s playoffs, Balanza completely recovered as the months went along and led Letran with 27 points in a winner-take-all 91-89 Game 3 win on Tuesday, November 19.
From the sidelines back to prime time, the 23-year-old forward poured his heart out in bringing down another San Beda dynasty and he only had the Lord to thank for his magical comeback.
“Isa lang: Sobrang bait ni God. Talagang lugmok na lugmok na ako noong time na yun eh,” Balanza recounted, this time with the court net and a gold medal around his neck.
“Wala akong ginawa kundi maniwala sa Kanya at maging positibo. Sobrang sarap ng pakiramdam na napasalamatan ko ang Letran community at lahat ng naniwala sa amin sa pamamagitan nitong championship. Sa amin talaga ito.”
(Just one thing: God is so good. I was really down that time. I did nothing but believe in Him and be positive. It feels really good to thank the Letran community and everyone who believed in us with this championship. This is really ours.)
Even in the face of grave odds after a heartbreaking Game 2 loss, Balanza was the last man left still smiling and completely confident that Letran would pull off the championship stunner in the end.
“Simula pa lang pagbalik ko, na-envision ko na pagbalik ko magcha-champion kami dahil yun ang pinakamagandang plano ni God sa akin at sa team. Ngayon, nangyari na,” said Balanza, who was a rookie when Letran won a championship in 2015 by spoiling San Beda's six-peat bid.
“Yung teammates ko, naniwala sa akin.”
“After ng Game 2, yung iba sobrang down. Akala nila di na kami mananalo sa Game 3. Pero ako, as captain, kailangan ko silang dalhin para maglaro kami sa Game 3 at sinimulan namin sa ensayo na parang kami na yung champion. Maganda ang kinalabasan.”
(Ever since I came back, I envisioned that we’d become champions because that’s the best plan God has for me and the team. Now, it has happened. My teammates believed in me. After Game 2, the others were so down. They didn’t think we’d win Game 3. But as a captain, I had to carry them to play Game 3 and we started practice as if we already were the champions. It came out really well.)
Now that Balanza has closed a fitting final chapter in his collegiate career, he has one last message for the people who were always there for him in both his darkest and finest hours.
“Sobrang sarap maging Letranista talaga. Walang katulad,” he said. “Babalik-balikan ko talaga. Ito yung ginawang way ni God para mapasalamatan ko sila.”
(It really feels great to be a Letranite. There’s no feeling like it. You’ll really come back again and again. This championship is God’s way for me to thank all of them.) – Rappler.com