One of the biggest what-ifs in Philippine basketball is Ryan Buenafe.
If his physical abilities met his mental ones, would he still be in the Philippine Basketball Association? Would he have won numerous championships and most valuable player plums?
But for the 31-year-old Buenafe, he has no regrets about how his career has gone so far. And it’s because he has already fulfilled his mission.
Finding the Manila Dream
Back in 2005, Buenafe — then just 13 years old — was looking to help ease the finances of his parents by earning a scholarship in Manila.
He first landed in Philippine Christian University in Taft Avenue.
“Ang target ko lang talaga noon, makakuha ng scholarship kasi nasa private ako noon e. Sabi ko mag-tryout ako sa PCU. Kinuha ako noon pero wala akong papeles tulad ng good moral na kailangan ko kunin sa dati kong school,” he shared to Mikee Reyes.
“Isipin mo, thirteen lang ako noon, tapos wala akong kasama. Mag-isa akong nagba-bus mula Cavite hanggang Taft.”
His documents did not make it on time, though, leading him to another school along the University Belt — San Sebastian College-Recoletos.
Back then, San Sebastian was not a powerhouse squad. It could not even compete with the legendary high school program of San Beda.
On his part, Buenafe never had formal basketball training. But San Sebastian needed players to fill up its roster.
They eventually accepted Buenafe.
“Nung dumating kami noon, seven players lang kami sa Team B. Kaso seven ‘yung nawala, wala nang tryout-tryout, pasok na kami. Table tennis pa nga ‘yung laro ni Paul Lee noon,” quipped Buenafe.
“Laro lang ako. Wala naman nagturo sa akin kasi ‘yung tatay ko, laging nasa ibang bansa. Hindi naman ako katulad ng iba na lagi kasama ‘yung parents, ako wala talaga.”
Despite the tall odds in front of them, Buenafe and the Stags ended the San Beda dynasty, winning four straight championships from NCAA Seasons 81 to 84.
By his senior year, he was the undisputed number one prospect.
Of course, a lot of schools tried to recruit him. There was La Salle, San Beda, and FEU.
But what led him to Ateneo was one thing — his younger sister Bea.
“Importante lang talaga sa akin ‘yung scholarship para makatulong sa mama ko. Tapos ayun, nagtuloy-tuloy na hanggang college,” said Buenafe.
“Naligawan na ko [ng Ateneo] noon, pinag-aral ‘yung kapatid ko nung high school. Nakatipid na naman mama ko noon. Parang doon na rin ako nakatira sa kanila.”
Ryan Buenafe was a joy to watch when he was with Ateneo.
For those unable to watch him, Buenafe was a 6-foot-2 basketball player who was position-less. He could play point guard, wing, and, during his final year, even center. Moreover, despite being a hefty player, Buenafe had a long hangtime that made him a nightmare once he got into the paint.
The court, though, was his escape.
Buenafe, who grew up in the mean streets of Cavite, admitted that he felt shocked by the school’s culture.
He shared to Reyes that he kept a small, close circle, even admitting that he was closer to the student-athletes of Far Eastern University and University of the East than he was with his fellow Ateneans. In addition, he would practice alone late in the evening at Moro Lorenzo Gym just so he could have his alone time.
Buenafe also broke his silence regarding him missing UAAP Season 74. Though he did not go into much detail about it, he said that there were members of the team that he could not get along with, which resulted in him sitting out that year.
“Kahit tanong niyo pa sa kanila, hindi ako bumagsak,” he clarified.
While all this was happening, he still looked out for Bea, who, during his final year in Ateneo, was already finishing her studies as well.
In 2013, Buenafe was selected as the eighth overall pick by the Alaska Aces.
Rumors have it that there was a clause in his contract that he needed to meet a certain wait time that would trigger a bonus.
His stay in Alaska would only last for one year before he signed with Meralco. His stint with the Bolts would then only last for two seasons.
So what happened?
According to Buenafe, he had already lost his motivation since he had already finished his mission of giving his sister Bea a good life.
“Okay na ko noon kasi pinag-aral ‘yung kapatid ko.
“Hindi naman inspired — [parang] hindi na excited sa basketball. Hindi na parang UAAP, eto kasi business na. ‘Yung excitement wala na rin. ‘Yung basketball nakasawaan mo na rin kasi bata ka pa lang, tapos nakuha mo na ‘yung goal na pag-aralin ‘yung kapatid mo,” he said.
Living the Best Life
Since departing the PBA, Buenafe has bounced around from one regional league to another.
He played for the Zamboanga Valientes in the MPBL Lakan Season before transferring to Laguna Heroes a year later. He also played for Pagadian City in Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3×3.
Currently, he is playing for Siquijor in the Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas VisMin Super Cup.
Not only is Buenafe still playing the game, but he can still travel around the country.
Bea, on the other hand, is now 28 years old and has been tending to their mom and grandmother in Pasay.
After all these years, Buenafe has no regrets.
“Kahit anong sabihin sa’kin, tatawanan ko lang ‘yan. Minsan may mga nakakakilala pa rin. Mas naglalaro kasi tayo sa panalay. Enjoy lang naman,” he said.
“At least nakuha ko ‘yung gusto ko.”