In his first game of the NCAA Season 99 Seniors Basketball Tournament for San Sebastian College-Recoletos, Mark De Leon spent the first thirty-five minutes of his squad’s battle against Mapua University helplessly watching from the bench.
The 19-year-old rookie only heard his number called with 4:27 left on the game clock and his squad facing a 53-68 deficit. By then, the game was out of reach.
In his less than five minutes of play, though, Coach John Kallos saw something in the rookie that impressed him. Although many considered the game done and dusted, De Leon continued to hustle on defense and fight for rebounds as if it were a one-possession ball game.
“Last three minutes, ginamit ko siya, and he showed respect for the game. He gave his 110% kahit we’re down by 14, 18, hanggang sa nababa namin sa seven. Nakita ko yung heart niya, then sabi ko sa kanya when we went to practice after nung game na iyon, you will start,” said Kallos.
True to his word, De Leon found himself in the starting lineup as the Golden Stags faced Arellano University on Saturday. The former Staglets standout rewarded his coach’s faith in him.
De Leon ended up scoring 16 points, shooting at an impressive 87.5-percent from the field in just the first half of the match alone, helping Baste topple Arellano 111-86.
“Binigyang lang po ako ng kumpyansa ni coach Kallos. Nakuha ko po yung tiwala niya sa amin. Minaximize ko naman ng maayos yon. Hindi ko namang inisip na pumuntos, hindi ko namang inexpect na ganong kadami yung naiscore ko sa first half. Basta sinimulan ko lang po sa depensa at sinundan ko lang yung sinabi sa akin ni coach Kallos,” said De Leon.
De Leon himself had shown his trust in Coach Kallos in the past. Despite having the option to play for other schools, De Leon chose to commit himself to San Sebastian to play for Kallos.
“From juniors, nagcommit ako sa seniors kasi tiwala naman po ako sa sistema ng San Sebastian. Mas binigay ko po yung tiwala ko sa kanila kaysa magcommit sa ibang team kasi ibang community pa iyon. Kumbaga, palagay na po ako sa kanila,” De Leon shared.
San Sebastian’s next challenge will be against Lyceum of the Philippines University on Tuesday, October 3, 2023, at the Filoil Ecooil Centre.
Whether he returns to the bench or starts on Tuesday, when his number is called, De Leon will be ready to give Kallos, his squad, and the San Sebastian community his all.