MANILA, Philippines – There was a sparkle in Ranidel De Ocampo’s eyes when he expressed how much he missed the game, complete with a broad grin.
The 34-year-old forward was gone from basketball for almost 4 months. Yet after posting 20 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and two steals Wednesday, February 10, it seemed like De Ocampo had never left.
“Sobrang na-miss ko maglaro e, sabik na sabik talaga ako maglaro. Nagpapasalamat ako kay God na pinapabalik niya ko sa paglalaro ng basketball (I missed playing very much, I was really so excited to play. I am thankful to God he let me come back to playing basketball),” De Ocampo happily spoke following Tropang TNT’s 108-102 win over the Blackwater Elite to open the 2016 PBA Commissioner’s Cup.
The 12-year PBA veteran visibly swelled with relief, gratitude and joy after successfully playing his first game since suffering a terrifying injury last year one Sunday, October 25. He tweaked his back while weight-lifting when he tweaked his back and suddenly could not move.
The memory of the worrisome photo of De Ocampo lying on a stretcher, eyes closed, hands clasped together, with a brace supporting his neck was erased Wednesday night when he unloaded boundless energy, charged down the lane like he used to, and fired lethal 3-pointers in a strong comeback game.
“It’s not that it wasn’t hard for me, it was, but I had not played in a long time,” De Ocampo shared in Filipino after he played over 28 minutes right away to compensate for missing suspended import Ivan Johnson. “I think I was just really excited to play. I wanted so bad to get to playing.”
De Ocampo, who is still undergoing therapy before practices and before bed as his back still tightens up at times, admitted he still needs a few more games to be able to say he is “complete.” But mentally, at least, he’s already gotten past playing too carefully and being anxious he might hurt his back again.
“Now I’ve already adjusted my mind,” he explained. “During my first practice before I was definitely a bit uncomfortable and worried. I really needed to be confident when playing with nothing on my mind.”
De Ocampo left a gaping hole in TNT’s roster as they struggled in the Philippine Cup with a thinner frontline, exiting early in the quarterfinals.
“It’s a good thing Ranidel is there because now we have a threat underneath again,” explained guard Jayson Castro in Filipino. He specifically missed De Ocampo’s versatility and unpredictability from moving around in the post to draining outside shots.
“When he’s on the court we could do a lot of things,” Castro added.
Fans, however, worried not only for De Ocampo’s PBA career but also for his national team stint.
The Gilas Pilipinas mainstay, who has been sacrificing off-season rest for the national team since 2013, said his participation in the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifier to be hosted in Manila will depend on his health and his level of play in the coming months. De Ocampo adds that he will visit practice when it resumes Monday, February 15.
For now, De Ocampo is just happy to be back on the court again and motivated by the prospect of defending TNT’s championship in the import-laden mid-season conference.
“It’s definitely one of our motivations that this is our conference,” he said. “That’s one of the things running through our minds, we want to win back-to-back Commissioner’s Cup titles. We need to work hard for it.”
Ranidel De Ocampo returns for TNT in the Commissioner's Cup after a back injury #PBA2015 Rappler Posted by Jane Yvette Bracher on Wednesday, 10 February 2016