Gab Banal felt like a rookie when he signed a one conference contract with Alaska, Thursday afternoon.
Despite being 30 years old, this was just his second PBA contract. And he just feels happy to be with a franchise that he grew up watching back when he was still a young boy studying in Xavier School.
“I’m happy that I’m playing for a team that I grew up cheering for. Ever since I was a kid, I would go to Alaska’s practice and games while my brothers and I would wear Alaska jerseys,” said Banal as his dad Joel was also the Aces’ head coach from 2011 to 2012.
“I had number 6 on because my favorite player was Jolas [Jojo Lastimosa].”
Since 2017, the 6-foot-3 winger has technically been a PBA free agent. But that does not mean that he just sat idly at home.
In fact, Banal’s grind was much more difficult than the pros.
The second generation cager would play for numerous teams in the PBA D-League, MPBL, and Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3×3 – sometimes even playing twice a day. Moreover, he gained plenty of international experience under his belt playing with Mighty Sports and Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas in both the 5v5 and 3×3 circuits.
To start the year, Banal received an Instagram message last November from Aces head coach Jeffrey Cariaso. It was an irresistible offer to train with the Aces.
Banal, at the time signed to MPBL club Nueva Ecija, had nothing to lose.
“Coach Jeff slid through my DM and invited me to workout with them. At that time Chooks 3×3 just finished and I was in shape,” Banal bared to Tiebreaker Times.
“He told me that when I caught the same flight with him to San Francisco two years ago and that he was scouting me already in the D-League and MPBL.”
One thing led to another, and he eventually signed the dotted line.
Compared to the last time he played in the PBA, Banal admits that he is more mature now. More importantly, he is just hitting his prime.
“Maturity and experience – I guess that’s the biggest learning.
“I wasn’t able to really showcase my talent in the pros before. I really needed to hone my skills further in the amateur leagues and international tournaments,” said the 22nd overall pick in the 2014 PBA Draft who ended up winning the MPBL Rajah Cup MVP four years later.
But before signing with Alaska, Banal had to seek permission from Nueva Ecija big boss Bong Cuevas for a release from his contract. Cuevas is one of the few team owners in the MPBL that continued to pay the salary of their players despite the pandemic.
“Extremely thankful for Boss Bong!
“He’s been understanding. He’s one of the reasons why I’m achieving this comeback. I’m forever grateful for his support in my career and my life,” he expressed.
Banal’s journey back to the big league is an inspiring tale of not giving up on your dreams.
For some, being kicked out of the PBA is a sign that basketball is just not for them. Instead of sulking, Banal showed that there is another way to return to the big league – just sheer hard work.
“For me, it’s just about faith. A lot of times I wanted to quit and move on from basketball, but I just kept pushing forward,” he shared.
“I hope I can be a testimony to anyone who’s about to give up on their dreams. Taking it one day at a time. Trusting the timing. Trusting God.”