Jett Manuel reflects on UAAP career, leaves braver UP behind
MANILA, Philippines – Their last game for the season was not ideal for a good ending. The University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons were down by 12 points with just two minutes remaining on the clock. Teary-eyed team captain Jett Manuel knew it was over.
"We're gonna lose."
He looked back from where he sat and saw the Araneta Coliseum painted maroon, supporters cheering their hearts out – something he rarely witnessed in his 5 years in the UAAP. He looked at his proud parents, and then glanced back at the fans.
"When I saw that, I knew I can already leave."
Days after their farewell game of the season where the University of the East prevailed, 80-67, Manuel sat at a coffee shop and narrated how vividly he remembered everything – from the day he wanted to be a civil engineering student and a basketball player for UP, until the last day he donned the Fighting Maroons jersey.
"I didn't really play exceptionally at the start, until second year in high school when I started winning championships with the team, but weren't really good to have other universities notice me for [a] scholarship," Manuel said, recalling his high school days.
The 6-foot-2 shooting guard played for Xavier in high school and, according to him, no school really took notice of him until they had a scrimmage with the team B of the UP men's basketball squad. Manuel became convinced he wanted to take up civil engineering in the state university.
"Everyday it was new to me and I didn't really have anyone to help guide me and I was the only one in CE, 'cause all of my batchmates were in CHK (College of Human Kinetics), so they had different classes," he said.
Manuel, like many other student-athletes, faced hardships as he tried to balance his duties.
"When I got to major subjects, that's when it started to get tough. I had challenges like I had exams and I [had] training. I would run on little to no sleep and sometimes would have to miss some classes," he recalled.
Choosing UP all the way
Manuel experienced a 0-14 to 1-14 season with the Fighting Maroons. There was even a time when his coach wouldn't let him play, and he admitted he almost gave up.
But in his sophomore year, Manuel received the Most Improved Player Award from the UAAP. Things started to change for him.
He sat out a season and trained in the United States, then joined the PBA D-League under the UP-Derulo Accelero team. According to Manuel, this helped him improve as a player and made him return to the UAAP better than before.
"Through the years, my biggest improvement was maturity," he said.
This was very telling as he chose to pull out from the 2016 PBA Rookie Draft to stay with UP until the very end.
"It was no question for me, it will always be UP."
"Well, I'm always asked that, and always zero regrets. The biggest regret that I would have is I could've done more. I wish I could've won more games. I wish I could've played better, but after everything, I'm happy the way I left. It was all worth it."
On being a captain
It is never easy to be a team captain, especially for a team who struggles not only with winning but with keeping a winning mindset. Manuel played a huge role in motivating the Diliman cagers.
"I've gone through a lot of captains and then me being a captain this year, I just felt that I'll just give my all whatever they think of me. I make a point to communicate with them everyday, after practice," he said.
UP head coach Bo Perasol has said it seemed like his squad was buried in a losing mindset for the longest time.
"If I see something wrong, see someone slacking off, I would gather the team together and let them know that this isn't gonna work out how it's supposed to be. It was more on communication in the process of preparing for games. It was more of staying together no matter what happens," Manuel added.
This strategy clearly worked as they almost barged into the tightly contested Final Four this season and pulled off major upsets against the Ateneo Blue Eagles and UST Growling Tigers.
Usually, Manuel would encourage his teammates from the bench every time he wasn't on the court. He would boost their morale by urging them to take shots confidently and to play tough defense. He would remind them to be dependable team players.
But on his last day as a Maroon, Manuel sat quietly on the bench in the final quarter, taking it all in. He wouldn't know if he'd cry or not, he said. He wouldn't know how he'd sing "UP Naming Mahal" for the last time, wearing his number 6 jersey.
Though his last UAAP game did not end on a winning note, Manuel sang his alma mater's hymn on the court with much pride, his fist high in the air. It was all worth it for this Maroon. – Rappler.com
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