Des Cheng was clutching her silver heart necklace, standing with her shoulders slumped while trying to answer questions from the members of the press.
This is Cheng off the court: still uncomfortable with the attention that comes with playing in the UAAP for the most successful program of the last two decades.
Just 20 minutes before the awkward encounter in the bowels of the SM Mall of Asia Arena press area, Cheng was shining on the court, slapping a high-five with head coach Ramil De Jesus after her 18th point of the match against the UST Tigresses.
This was Cheng on the court: conscious and comfortable with the opposing crowd’s perception of her as a smiling, jeering villain. She doesn’t really care anymore what spectators think of her antics, as long as she’s helping her team.
There was a crucial point in the fourth set of the match that the UST crowd was drowning the arena in “Go USTe” chants, to the point that any cheers from the La Salle were completely inaudible.
The 22-year-old was having none of it. She threw her arms up, urging the La Salle crowd to cheer louder. The UST crowd almost took it as a taunt; how dare Cheng urge her crowd to interrupt their cheer? Or was the UST crowd not loud enough for her?
“Parang nag-iingay na ‘yung crowd ng UST. Remember the UP game? Nagsimula mag-ingay ‘yung UP crowd and na-rattle kami,” Cheng recalled, pertaining to their second-round loss to the Lady Maroons just last week.
“Parang nili-lift ko ‘yung crowd namin na ‘Kayo din, sabay naman kayo’. Kasi feeling ko may right akong mag-ganoon that time kasi feeling ko lumalaban talaga ‘yung team.”
Like past La Salle captain and human fireball Aby Maraño, Cheng’s bursts of emotions and crowd jeering aren’t for her. She feels that it helps the team focus on the game as the opposition focuses on her.
“Actually, medyo hindi ako ganoong person na mabilis ma-distract with the crowd. Pero iniisip ko kasi ‘yung teammates ko. Marami sa aming bago. Bago sila sa ganitong environment. Malay mo, hindi man nila sinasabi lagi, pero big factor pala sa kanila ‘yun,” she admitted.
“Mafi-feel na nila and sila na rin magsasabi na ‘Ate, grabe ‘yung crowd.’Sabi ko na lang na medyo lie-low pa ‘yan kesa noong years nila ate Mika Reyes. Malayo talaga,” she said.
“Ngayon, iniinis ka na lang kung hanggang saan ‘yung loob niyo and gaano sa loob ng court.”
This most encompasses the Des Cheng experience in the UAAP. She draws so much attention from these snapshot moments that you miss that she scored a career-high 20 points and helped her team avenge their first round loss to UST.
Cheng has and probably never will change. Over the years, she’s learned that tact is key in talking with the media, but on the court, any sort of taunting or antics is fair game.
“Sa court, hindi ako nagsasalita, naglalaro lang ako. Dito (interview), parang ang daming questions and parang may possibility na may masabi lang akong isang word, akala mo naman katapusan na ng mundo kung anuhin nila ako. Hindi ako sanay kasi talaga sa mga presscon, interviews,” the 5-foot-8 spiker said.
“Okay ako doon (inside the court), as long as confident ako na nakakatulong ako sa team. Wala akong kailangan katakutan talaga.”
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