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What drives the Arellano Chiefs’ Jiovani Jalalon?
by rick olivares pic by richard esguerra
Sports anchor Andrei Felix has an interesting story behind the dubbing of Arellano Chiefs’ blindingly fast point guard Jiovani Jalalon as “the bus driver.” While working a game with analyst Mikee Reyes, the both agreed that he takes the opposing guards to school and that he is the engine behind the Chiefs’ run and gun machine. “While some may say that we cribbed something from (American basketball star) Kyrie Irving, with Jiovani it came about naturally and as a spur of the moment thing,” related Felix. “There is nothing conscious about it. Just as natural and improv about his game.”
He’s as close as there is to an unstoppable force. When on the backcourt with his running mates Kent Michael Salado and Donald Gumaru, they are weapons of mass destruction; wreaking havoc on both ends of the court. Running, gunning, and stuffing highlight reels.
What drives Jalalon?
The memory of his father’s unrealized basketball dreams. They grew up poor in Cagayan De Oro. His father, Vicente, was just as small but he could get up and dunk. The lack of a proper education and opportunities curbed any hoops dreams so he became a construction worker. Jio lives his father’s unrealized basketballl dream.
What drives Jio?
It’s having not much to eat. Sometimes, it would be nothing but salt. Salt and a lot of water. Sometimes, salt and rice. And for a very long long time, it was never having much. It was trying to sleep in the oppressive heat in a home with not much ventilation. It was lying awake during countless nights and wondering how to help his family get out of their hardship. Of being in pain because he was hungry. He would tell his father that he was hungry and his father would break his back to put food on the table.
Being the third of a brood of six, aside from his parents, Jio has been the breadwinner for his family. He has been since he moved to Manila, playing first for Informatics in NAASCU and then for Arellano in the NCAA aside from the national team, Gilas.
What drives Jiovani Jalalon?
It’s leading his school, Arellano University to glory. He remembers his first year with Arellano playing backup to John Pinto (who is now in the PBA). He struggled with is handles, oft turning the ball over. “I was learning to handle my speed,” he says in the vernacular. “It affected my ball control.” When he finally got it down pat, a thousand ankles were broken on his way to the hoop. Aside from his speed, the other weapon he brings to bear is his speed of thought. He is able to read the court, see plays before they unfold, and make the right decisions up to the last moment.
Jalalon remembers making it to the NCAA finals three years ago. It was an incredible season and making the finals — the Chiefs were just thrilled to be there and that made them easy pickings for a dynastic San Beda team. It was never a series.
Flash forward today, Jio’s team is on track to make it back — to win it all for his school, teammates, coaches, and for his loved ones. It means something because he isn’t sure if he is even coming back for his final year. “I cannot think of the future today,” he shares after another rollicking win. “I’d like to concentrate on what I can do today and hope for a better tomorrow.”
What drives him farther?
It’s also about giving honor to flag and country with the national team. "Not many people are given this opportunity. My family wasn’t given anything. It was one small hope we had and it was through basketball.”
The plaudits have be thrown his way… the best player in college basketball today. The next Jayson Castro. A potential top five PBA draft pick.
Jio does know that there is small room for error. He knows all too well about staying on the path that has been set before him.
“Sige lang,” he adds not with a tinge of arrogance but more of an attitude where he welcomes the challenge. He notes the pressure of expectations, of potential. He isn’t worried at all. After all, he has seen worse growing up in CDO with nothing to call their own, nothing to eat, and with hardly any opportunities.
Those are the things that the 24-year old Jiovani Jalalon sees on his way to the basket. Obstacles to be hurdled.
What drives Jiovani Jalalon?
Pay attention because it is quite a lesson he is dishing.