Why play in Japan? 'To challenge myself,' says Thirdy Ravena

MANILA, Philippines – A three-time UAAP Finals MVP for the Ateneo Blue Eagles and now a soon-to-be Asian import in Japan, Thirdy Ravena told Rappler on Wednesday, June 24, that he accepted the opportunity to play overseas as a way to challenge himself and grow both as a basketball player and person. 

Fresh off the breaking news that he would play for San-En Neophoenix in the Japan Professional Basketball League (B.League)’s 2020-2021 season, Ravena admitted during a phone conversation that the move is “out of my comfort zone.”

“I don’t want to keep doing things na alam ko kaya kong gawin (which I know I can already do),” Ravena said of the first major decision of his professional basketball career. 

“So I always want to challenge myself and do things that I never thought I could do.”

According to a press release by the Neophoenix team, Ravena is the first player signed under the league’s new “Asian Player Quotas” system. He will also be the first Filipino to play professional basketball in Japan, which is something he admits makes him feel proud. 

Interest from teams in Japan first came when Ravena was playing his final season with Ateneo in 2019. After leading the Blue Eagles to a third straight UAAP title, Ravena and his family began discussing the possibility in January of 2020. 

“We were talking about Japan – the offers – and where will I get to play the most,” he said. 

Part of those discussions involved conversing with his collegiate head coach, Tab Baldwin.

“He just said, ‘It’s really on you and what you want.’ Whatever I want, whether it’s a big contract or somewhere I can play, or both,” he said, sharing Baldwin’s advice.

A major reason for selecting Japan was its close proximity to the Philippines, which will make it easier for Ravena’s family to visit and watch him play.

“I know it’s not just going to be a struggle in terms of playing with players of that caliber,” he said about his upcoming adventure. 

“But the emotional challenge of being alone and away from everyone else – your friends and family – so at least I know Japan is just near.”

Travel has been restricted in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. So even if Ravena is already sure of playing in Japan, he’s not yet certain when he will fly to the country to begin training with his new team.

“We’re actually still talking about it now in terms of schedule, there’s a lot more to be done – even the government needs to approve the  flights and everything,” he said. 

“I just have to get the paperwork done and then I’m all set.”

Flag and family

Ravena said he will also keep the door open to eventually play in the PBA and for the Philippine national team.

“I was given the unique opportunity to play somewhere [a Filipino has never played before], but my heart and my love for the Philippines will never waver, so it will never be out of the equation. If given the chance, I’d love to play for the Philippines,” he stated.

Ravena also said that while playing in Japan, he will carry the badge of being from the Philippines with pride.

“I just want to be able to represent the country as best as I can.”

Ravena, however, further admitted that living by himself will present unique challenges he will have to overcome – especially without the constant presence of family, which he’s had his entire life.

“If I’m really tired, hindi ako pwede mag paluto ng food pag-uwi. Yung mga gan’ong bagay (I can’t just ask anyone to cook for me when I get home. Those kind of things),” he said.

“It’s really the small things that are the ones that matter. For me, it piles up. It could affect you in ways that you never know it would,” he said, allowing a peek into his emotions.

“Like for example, emotional and mental side. Homesickness would really come to play. It’s not a joke and it’s also something we want to avoid as much as possible, but I’m very confident that my dreams will allow me to keep working hard and to push through it, whatever obstacle it may be.”

Ultimately, Ravena says, he’s on this mission to prove that he can mature both as a basketball player and a human being.

“Through struggles and hardships, at the end of the day, ‘pag nasabi mo sa sarili mo na kaya mo naman pala, ‘yun yung hinahabol ko (when you tell yourself that you can actually do it, that’s what I’m after)… that’s the type of person that I am.”

As for his love for fashion, Ravena admitted that he plans to dye his hair red.

It looks like Japan will soon have a Pinoy Sakuragi in town. – Rappler.com