How John Apacible got his second chance in the UAAP
MANILA, Philippines – One stupid mistake can change everything.
John Apacible – the former Ateneo basketball player now playing for the University of the East – sure learned this lesson the hard way. But, as he eventually figured out, there's always a shot at redemption.
In October 2015, one viral video almost doomed Apacible’s collegiate basketball career.
"Hindi ako lumalabas dahil sa incident na iyon," recalled Apacible.
"Medyo [na-feel ko na na-judge ako ng mga tao], meron din ‘yung mga negative [comments] sa Facebook, madaming mga negative comments."
(I wasn't going out because of that incident. I felt many people were judging me. There were so many negative comments on Facebook.)
Four years ago, a three-minute video of Apacible causing a commotion along Timog Avenue in Quezon City was posted on the Top Gear Facebook page.
It shows an intoxicated Apacible yelling expletives at the person recording the video, who accused the player of kicking his car multiple times.
Then 19 years old, Apacible also keeps challenging the person to a fist fight while brandishing a "Councilor" vanity plate.
The video of his drunk driving incident went viral and the 6-foot-4 forward got heavily ridiculed for his actions. It got worst on social media where he received all sorts of insults and got a mocking nickname of “Councilor.”
Although Apacible was not arrested, the Ateneo men's basketball management suspended him from games and practices for the remainder of the UAAP Season 78 second round.
Amid that embarrassing time, Apacible felt grateful for the support of his then Ateneo coach Bo Perasol and teammates like Kiefer Ravena.
"Kinausap nila ako nang maayos. Sila Kiefer, si Kiefer ang tumulong sa akin noon. Sabi niya na parang huwag ko na raw isipin kasi parang nadedepress din ako," said Apacible.
(The Ateneo team and management talked to me really well. Kiefer and my other teammates helped me a lot at that time. Kiefer told me that I should just move one because I was getting depressed.)
Perasol, who’s now coaching the University of the Philippines, also believed that Apacible could recover from the incident, that in retrospect, he found amusing.
"I know John deeper than anybody,” Perasol told Rappler. “I know it was a jerk reaction and it actually looked funny to me. It’s like him, but in a funny way. Hindi malalim ang ginawa niya noon (he didn't commit too big of a mistake), it wasn’t malicious."
Apacible eventually apologized to the public for his behavior in a letter, but as it turned out, moving on was easier said than done.
Another bump on the road
By the end of the season, the embattled student-athlete found out that he's one of the 7 Blue Eagles who failed to meet the university's academic requirements.
Apacible admitted that on top of Ateneo's rigid academics, he struggled to bring himself to class for the rest of his sophomore year out of embarrassment.
"Kaya ako natanggal noon kasi hindi ako pumapasok, nahiya ako sa kanila (Ateneo). Pero hindi naman sila judgmental. Talagang support naman sila sa akin" said Apacible.
(I failed because I wasn't going to class. I was really ashamed of myself even though the school itself wasn't judgmental. They were really supporting me.)
Later that year, Ateneo parted ways with Perasol after he failed to lead the team to a championship in his three-year tenure.
But Perasol, who soon joined his alma mater UP, just couldn’t ignore Apacible's situation. Believing the young big man has potential, Perasol wanted to offer him a slot in the Fighting Maroons.
"Ang naalala ko kay John was he would go 100% in field goals even with the limited minutes that he had. ‘Yung lahat ng pasa sa kanya doon sa ilalim, na-shoot niya for how many games so he was I think 3 or 4 games, wala siyang mintis," recalled Perasol.
(What I remember about John was he would go 100% in field goals even with the limited minutes that he had. He would convert all the passes to him underneath, and I think he didn’t miss for 3 or 4 games.)
"I was telling him if he's not committed to Ateneo anymore, then you can be part of this team also in UP when I first started,” said Perasol.
Ateneo, though, gave all the affected student-athletes a chance to make the grade by next season, which Apacible chose to do.
"I think that Ateneo that time had plans for him, so I told him don’t leave, wag ka na umalis diyan (don't leave Ateneo anymore),” said Perasol.
In that phone conversation, the UP mentor also gave Apacible more advice.
"My bottomline message to John is that it happens,” he said. “The only way that you can make it better is for you to bounce back and to make it as your lesson. That's what's important.”
In 2016, Kiwi-American tactician Tab Baldwin started overseeing the program of the depleted Ateneo squad after his commitments to the Philippine men's basketball team.
Baldwin took interest on Apacible, which motivated even more the Hope Christian high school alumnus to turn a new leaf.
"[In] one year, pumasok talaga ako. Kinuha ko ‘yung mga grades na kailangan,” he said. “Natuwa ako na binigyan nila ako ng chance, hindi ko inexpect eh, na gusto din ako ni coach Tab kasi coach Tab na iyon eh.”
(I really went to class that year. I got all the grades I needed. I was really excited when they gave me a chance. I didn't expect that coach Tab would be interested in me because that’s already coach Tab.)
But competition for roster spots got tougher and things didn’t turn out the way Apacible hoped as he failed to crack the Blue Eagles lineup that eventually made a run to the 2016 UAAP Finals.
The turn of events prompted Apacible to leave the Blue Eagles' nest and look for his second chance elsewhere.
In 2017, Apacible decided to jump to the NCAA where he was ready to join former Ateneo teammate CJ Perez in Lyceum.
But in another surprise turn later that year, former Ateneo high school champion coach Joe Silva got in touch with Apacible, asking if he’d like to join him at the University of the East where he just took over as head coach.
"Si Coach Joe Silva, kinontact niya ako sa Facebook sabi niya ‘John, gusto mo mag-UAAP ulit?’ Sabi ko, ‘sige coach.’ Nag-usap kami na pumunta ako dito sa UE," shared Apacible.
"Kasi naka-commit ako noon sa Lyceum, so nagpaalam pa kami kay coach Topex (Robinson). Ang bait ni coach Topex, nahiya rin ako magpaalam. Pero sinabi ko na gusto ko ulit mag-UAAP, gusto kong subukan ulit, so iyon."
(Coach Joe Silva contacted me in Facebook and asked me: 'John, do you want to play in the UAAP again?’ I said: 'Yes, coach.' So we talked about how I'll be able to enroll in UE. I was committed to Lyceum at that time, so we asked for coach Topex Robinson's blessing. He was so nice about it that I was embarrassed. But I really told him that I wanted to try playing in the UAAP again.)
Although he had to sit out for another year to fulfill the residency requirements, he wholeheartedly accepted the challenge to start over with a cellar-dweller team, and even decided to stay when Silva eventually resigned as coach this year.
By September 2019, Apacible ended his year-long wait for a league comeback. And he couldn't be more proud of his Red Warriors.
"Super close kami dito lahat (sa team). Buo kami dito,” he said. “‘Yung bonding namin, talagang sama-sama. Para kaming magkakapatid dito. Iyon ang maganda dito sa UE."
(We're super close in the team. We are together, our bond is strong, we’re almost like siblings. That's what's nice about UE.)
Although Apacible had a jittery start to the season where he failed to chip in baskets in UE's opening match against University of Santo Tomas, he soon rediscovered his groove.
And just like how Perasol previously described him, the big man worked hard to bounce back and fired 15 points in the Red Warriors' breakthrough win over La Salle.
"Gusto ko ma-achieve ngayon, gusto ko ipakita na kaya ko pa rin maglaro,” said Apacible. “Kaya ko pa rin mag-UAAP. Kaya ko pa bumalik.”
(My goal now is to show everyone that I can still play. That I can still make it in the UAAP and that I can still make a comeback.) – Rappler.com