SJ Belangel had plenty of motivation heading into Gilas’ 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers clash against South Korea, Wednesday evening at the AUF Sports & Cultural Center in Pampanga.
Back in 2018, Ateneo was the country’s representative in the William Jones Cup. The then-Ateneo rookie was unable to make the trip to Chinese-Taipei, though, having suffered a fractured orbital bone in a preseason game.
Ateneo lost to South Korea during that tournament, 73-90. And despite not playing in the game, the 5-foot-10 native of Bacolod City wanted to avenge his Blue Eagles teammates.
“Ang nasa isip ko lang is makabawi sa Korea since natalo nila kami. ‘Yun lang ‘yung mindset ko — gusto ko lang makabawi sa ganitong game.”
Belangel, 21, was plugged in as a starter by Gilas head coach Tab Baldwin. Technically, he was the second ball-handler of the starting five, serving as support for Dwight Ramos.
Early on, the team experienced jitters, falling behind by as much as 17 points in the first half.
But it did not deter Belangel and the young Gilas. After all, unlike in the UAAP, no one was in attendance since the game was a closed-door affair.
“That’s the props ng preparation na ginawa ni Coach Tab sa amin. Alam namin ang gagawin despite the situation na mangyayari. Makikita sa system niya na wala kaming dapat ikaba. We played sa UAAP [in front of] thousands of people in the crowd, pero ngayon wala namang tao. It’s up to us to motivate each other, pero iba pa rin ‘yung level of physicality dito,” he said.
“Pero ayun, having said that, ‘yun ‘yung nag-fire up sa amin at wala kaming dapat katakutan. We got each other’s back.”
Behind Belangel’s fourth-quarter flurry, Gilas would go on top by five points. However, South Korea was able to chop it up as a Lee Hyunjung triple with 2.9 seconds left knotted things up at 78-all.
Off a timeout, South Korea was able to interrupt what Baldwin’s play was. Thinking on the fly, Dwight Ramos then inbounded the ball to Belangel, who was at the corner.
However, Belangel found himself locked by Jeon Seonghyen, who is four inches taller than him.
“Nakita ko wala nang nangyari, nagkamali si Ange [Kouame]. Tapos nung time na ‘yun, iniisip ko na lang na we need a basket. Binigay sa akin ni Dwight,” he recalled.
With the clock winding down fast, Belangel first contorted his body to get some free space. From there, he threw an off-balance, sidewinder shot coming off a quick ball fake. The ball then hit the backboard before going in.
According to Belangel, though, he was actually targeting the board. Yes, he called game.
— Tiebreaker Times (@tiebreakertimes) June 16, 2021
“Sinadya ko talaga na boarding yun and pumasok lang.
“‘Yung off a fake, ginagawa ko lagi ‘yun. Pero one-footed, hindi ko ginagawa ‘yun. ‘Yung fake, favorite ko ‘yun and siyempre ‘yung boarding, hindi natin pinapractice ‘yun eh. Pero tinarget ko sa board kasi wala akong angle eh. Nakita ko lang ‘yung board at tinarget ko ‘yung box at pumasok,” recalled Belangel about the shot that gave Gilas a stunning 81-78 victory.
Now, Belangel — who had 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting with five rebounds and two assists in the game — is a household name. But for him, what matters most is that he did not just avenge the Blue Eagles, but also every Philippine team that suffered a heartbreak from the Koreans.
“For me, sobrang saya ko kasi nanalo tayo first of all. Hindi ko nga alam na history ulit tayo. And hitting that last shot, siguro dun lang nakilala ng mga tao yung isang SJ Belangel, pero for me sobrang happy ko and no matter what happens, para to sa fans.”