MANILA, Philippines – With Ateneo floor leader Matt Nieto having, at most, 3 games left in his collegiate career, another point guard is looking more than ready to take up the mantle for the Blue Eagles: SJ Belangel.
The crafty sophomore dropped a career-high 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting in just 13 minutes in the Blue Eagles' 86-64 mauling of the UP Fighting Maroons to close out the elimination round last Wednesday, October 30.
His scoring burst in limited time helped the two-time defending champions seal the first 14-0 sweep and outright finals berth in UAAP seniors basketball since the UE Red Warriors' feat 12 years ago.
Because of this, Belangel was awarded his first-ever Chooks-to-Go Collegiate Press Corps UAAP Player of the Week award.
Right now, the Blue Eagles' promising prospect is not only playing for another championship, but for his graduating seniors as well.
"Sa akin lang, para 'to sa mga seniors ko, especially kay kuya Matt at kuya Mike [Nieto], at saka siyempre 'yung ibang seniors kasi last year na nila," he said.
(For me, this is for our seniors, especially for kuya Matt and kuya Mike, and of course, for the other seniors because this is their last year.)
"Noong juniors, wala akong chance na makasama sila kaya lagi ko na lang nire-remind sa sarili na lalaro ako para sa mga seniors ko. Luckily, maganda laro ko."
(When I was in the junior ranks, I had no chance to be with them so I always remind myself that I'm playing for our seniors. Luckily, I had a good game.)
Even in an impressively deep rotation like the Blue Eagles', Belangel has managed to carve out his niche as a reliable reserve for Tab Baldwin.
He averaged 6.4 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists on 40.5% shooting from the three-point area in just under 12 minutes.
Though he has quite a few more steps to take before realizing his potential, Belangel is just chipping in whatever help he can give whenever his number is called, especially now that Ateneo is just two wins away from a three-peat.
"Lagi lang ready whether pinapalaro ka or 'di man," he said. "Basta 'pag nasa bench ka, kapag tinawag ka ni coach, laging ready lang. Kahit one minute ka lang, bigay mo lahat."
(I'm just always ready whether I play or not. When you're on the bench and when coach calls your name, you always have to be ready. Even if you only play one minute, you have to give your all.)
Belangel bested a list of veterans like La Salle's Jamie Malonzo, UE's Rey Suerte, Adamson's Mar Prado, and National U's Jack Animam for the weekly award handed out by print and online scribes covering the beat. – Rappler.com