There were a lot of standout performers for Gilas Pilipinas during the course of the 2017 Southeast Asian Basketball Association Championship. From Japeth Aguilar’s perfect game, June Mar Fajardo and Andray Blatche creating symphony, to the sweet-shooting of Allein Maliksi and Matthew Wright, it’s hard to pick a standout performer for the seniors basketball team.
But for coach Chot Reyes, the player that impressed him the most was Gilas cadet and Star Hotshot rookie Jiovani Jalalon.
“Good question. Mahirap eh, it’s hard to name a single player because different players stepped up every ball game,” the five-time Coach of the Year thought.
“But I really like the development and the play of Jio Jalalon. I think that’s a guy who is going to be really special for this program.”
The 24-year-old made a huge sacrifice a year ago, foregoing his final year with Arellano University to focus on his National Team duties. And his tough decision is starting to bear fruit as he has become one of the brightest young stars in the PBA while being a pivotal piece in the Gilas program.
In his first tournament with the seniors team, the Cagayan de Oro-native averaged 7.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists (second in the league), and 2.0 steals (second in the league) in 15.5 minutes of game time.
And once he heard about coach Chot’s praise, he could not help but gush with the praise his mentor gave him.
“Thank you, coach Chot na sinabihan mo ako ng ganun.
“Siguro [nakita niya], yung hustle at defense ko. Nagcre-create lang ako sa loob. ‘Di ko iniisip yung sarili ko, iinuuna ko yung mga kasama ko,” the 5-foot-9 floor general shared.
For him, winning his third SEABA crown was special as he got to play side-by-side with Jayson Castro, the player that took him under his wing a year ago.
“Itong game na ‘to, sobrang sarap. Pangatlo kong SEABA, ito yung pinaka the best kong napakita kahit pangatlo ako sa guards,” Jalalon furthered after Gilas’ 97-64 FIBA Asia-clinching win over Indonesia.
“Sobrang sarap kasi yung mga kasama ko, mga star player ng PBA. Sana magtuloy-tuloy na tong ginagawa ko. Sana bigla pa ako ng blessing ni God.”
One of the “stars” that praised Jalalon was none other than two-time scoring champion Terrence Romeo.
“Grabe si Jio, talagang always ready, tapos lagi kang may makukuha sa kanya, matalino maglaro, nandun yung hustle niya,” Romeo, who is part of Gilas’ bench mob, remarked about the Gilas cadet.
“Every time pumapasok si Jio, siya yung pinagmumulan ng hustle namin, so ang laki tulong niya sa team.”
But for now, Jalalon is looking forward to returning to the Star Hotshots.
“Babalik pa naman ako ng PBA, na-miss ko na rin yung team ko. Paghahandaan ko na lang pagbalik ko ng practice,” he closed.