Blessings upon blessings.
That is what Matt Aquino has been receiving since he signed to play for Shinshu in the B.League. Not soon after, the 6-foot-8 Filipino-Japanese player received an invitation to join Japan’s 24-man pool for the first window of the 2023 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.
But unlike his decision to play for the Brave Warriors, he had to think long and hard about it.
“Siyempre, initial reaction ko nagulat ako. Hindi ko talaga inexpect,” the 25-year-old told Tiebreker Times. “Kala ko nga, binibiro lang ako. Nalaman ko nung una sa teammate ko, si [Yuta] Okada. Sabi niya, ‘Bro, are you ready?’ Sabi ko, ‘Ready for what?’ I was invited daw to the pool of the Japanese team.
“Then nung pag-uwi ko galing practice, nag-message na yung president, si Sir Masahiko Katagai, na sinasama daw ako sa pool at kung interested ba ko. So sabi ko, pag-isipan ko muna,” he continued.
“Tapos pagkababa, tinawagan ko kagad yung family ko.”
They were the ones he talked to when he had to make the decision to transfer from Adamson to NU back in 2015. They were the ones who advised him to seek clearance from Sta. Lucia boss Buddy Encarnado first before signing with Shinshu.
This one though is different as he will have to forego his Gilas eligibility once the Japan Basketball Association registers him in the FIBA portal.
“Nung una, akala rin nila binibiro ko sila. So nung sinabi ko na yung president na ng team nagsabi, naniwala na sila,” he quipped. “Na-shock sila tapos naiyak din yung ate ko.”
Marlou though did not hesitate to say ‘yes’ as this opportunity never came for Matt when he was still in the Philippines.
“Ang unang reaction ni Erpat nung pagsabi nung kinausap rin sila nung president, sabi niya, ‘Ayos po ‘yan.’ Tapos nung tinanong ko si Erpat kung G ko na ba, sabi niya, ‘Oo, diyan ka na.’ Hindi na siya nagdalawang isip,” he narrated.
“Nagulat ako kasi sabi ko, ‘Sure ka na ba? Panu yung Gilas?’ Kasi yun yung unang naisip ko kasi pagnakuha ako dito, hindi na ko makakapag-Gilas. Pero sabi ni Erpats na huwag ko na raw isipin yun dito kasi dito ako sa Japan nabigyan ng opportunity,” he continued.
“Buong buhay ko, si Erpat talaga yung naging adviser ko pagdating sa basketball. Hindi na ko nagdalawang isip.”
And once he said yes, Shinshu decided to not field him last weekend when Shinshu took on Kiefer Ravena and Shiga as he needed to pack up and head to Tokyo.
Since Monday, Aquino and the rest of the pool have been at the Ajinomoto National Training Center. For two weeks, they will be there as they prepare for their games against China on the 27th and the 28th in Sendai.
Aquino’s schedule there looks like this.
He wakes up at 6:00 AM to eat breakfast in the canteen. At 10:00 AM practice begins and usually ends at around noon.
After their court training, they will hit the weights room for an hour before eating lunch. Court practice resumes at 3:00 PM and ends at 5:30 PM.
After another round at the gym, they head to dinner before going back to their rooms.
“Sa tatlong training namin, nakakapagod,” Aquino shared. “Unang-una, bago kaming lahat dito tapos bago yung system kasi iba-iba yung team namin. Tulad sa amin, very halfcourt yung laro pero system ni Coach Tom [Hovasse], transition game talaga yung gusto niya. Nung second practice, bakbakan na kagad — takbuhan, fast-paced.
“Pero masaya at enjoy. First day pa lang, madami na ko natutunan.”
Aquino has also gained a few friends there along the way
Of course, naturalized Japanese players Luke Evans and Eliet Donley were his instant friends as they both speak English. But what surprised him was that there was another Fil-Japanese player in the team in Masaaki Morikawa of the Yokohama B-Corsairs.
“Lahat naman nakakausap ko lalo na yung naturalized kasi marunong mag-English. May nakilala rin ako, si Masaaki. Ang nakakatawa dun, yung mom niya Filipina, taga-Dasmarinas!” he said.
“So tinagalog ko siya pero sabi niya he doesn’t know how to speak Filipino kasi lumaki siya sa Japan.”
Besides this, Aquino has also developed a rapport with coach Hovasse and one of the team’s assistant coaches in Geoffrey Katsuhisa, the brother of Shinshu head coach Mike. Waking up early also has done wonders for him as he gets to eat breakfast and spend time with Hovasse.
In the pool, Aquino stands as the third tallest player in the team, only behind veteran Kosuke Takeuchi and Avi Schaffer.
Aquino though feels that he has an advantage among them.
Being a stretch big, he feels right at home in Japan’s new system.
“Yung system ni coach, gusto niya five out. So hindi siya big fan ng post game. Medyo pabor siya sa akin. Ako, sinasabi ko sa sarili ko na gagawin ko lang yung trabaho ko.”
Of course, Aquino knows that he needs a lot to work on to crack the final 12.
And he is making sure to do his part of the deal as this opportunity does not come to everyone.
“Sobrang overwhelmed at araw-araw nagpapasalamat ako sa Panginoon.
“Yung B.League nga hindi ko na inexpect and ngayon national team naman. Mas unexpected ito kasi buong buhay ko, hindi ko inexpect na makakapaglaro ako rito. Talagang bibigay ko yung best ko kasi yung opportunity na ito, hindi dumarating ng biglaan,” he closed.