Justin Chua feels immensely proud to finally have an award he can call his own after being heralded as the PBA Top D-Fender of the Bubble in the PBA Press Corps Annual Awards Night, Sunday at the TV5 Media Center.
The Phoenix Super LPG bruiser has been in the league for over seven years now. He bounced around teams before finding a home with the Fuel Masters in 2017, but never has he won an individual honor until now.
“Sobrang happy and really proud,” Chua told Tiebreaker Times the day after his coronation. “After all the hard work, parang you see something na nagbunga — ‘di lang siya puro workout, practice, ganun.
“Ngayon, there’s something that I can hold on physically like an award,because I haven’t really won any individual award ever since. I think this is the first. I’m very happy.”
Chua admitted he felt caught by surprise, though, since he never expected to be a candidate for the award given by the sportswriters who regularly cover the PBA beat, let alone be in the discussion for it.
“Very surprising lang talaga ‘tong Defensive Player kasi never ko naman siya na-expect talaga or maging candidate man lang ako,” he said.
But then, he proved otherwise in the Philippine Cup bubble. He emerged as the league’s top shot-blocker with 1.6 a game, along with his averages of 11.7 points and 6.7 rebounds in what was a breakthrough campaign for him.
Having earned top defensive player honors, Chua also bannered the All-Bubble D-Fenders unit, featuring more established stars like his former teammate Calvin Abueva, Chris Ross, Mark Barroca, and Christan Standhardinger.
For the Ateneo de Manila product, winning the award made him realize that he can also deliver on the, well, defensive end. And he looks to gun for more.
“Nandoon ‘yung feeling na kaya ko naman pala. So why not try for another one next time?” he said. “Kasi lalo na ‘to, never ko talaga siya in-expect, ‘yung defensive player, I mean, hindi ako kilala as a defensive guy.
“So, to be given this award, I guess there’s something, like, nakikita ng media, ganun, na kaya ko naman pala dumipensa. I guess it’s something also na I’m looking forward to continuing doing what I was doing.”
Earning the title, Chua said, also serves as a great redemption for him after being denied the Most Improved Player award.
It could be remembered that the 6-foot-6 slotman was expected to win the said honors following a memorable season individually, but the award went to Prince Caperal of reigning all-Filipino champs Barangay Ginebra instead.
Chua admitted that he really wanted the MIP award but he has accepted the result and that Caperal also deserves to win also, he said. And being crowned as the bubble’s best defensive player more than makes up for it.
“Parang nung buong bubble, I think parang ‘yun lang ‘yung naririnig ko na makukuha ko so I was really striving to get the award sana. Hindi napunta sa akin pero okay lang din naman, deserving din naman si Prince eh,” furthered the 31-year-old from Bacolod.
“Very grateful pa rin ako, na may nawalang isang award pero may dumating naman na isa.”