ALDIN Ayo was the least surprised to see Jerrick Balanza return to his old, lethal form - or even get better - almost seven months since undergoing a brain surgery.
"Nandoon sa kanya yun eh, buhay niya yun, na whatever happens, for sure, he's going to hold a basketball. Na kahit anong pagdaanan ng bata, for sure, he's going to do his best to excel on what he does," said the University of Santo Tomas coach.
Ayo coached Balanza in his rookie year dating back to their days at Letran, and the two still keeping tabs on each other despite going their separate ways.
On Thursday, the 22-year-old proved to be the biggest thorn in the side of his former coach, lighting up for a season-high 34 points to go with nine rebounds and two steals in Petron-Letran's 114-101 win over UST in the 2019 PBA D-League.
It's an amazing to see what Balanza has been doing considering everything he has gone through for the past year, none more daunting than the brain surgery to remove a tumor in his brain.
"Kung titignan mo si Jerrick, yung laro niya nung first year niya to ngayon, he has improved a lot. Pero yung isang trait, yung isang character na nagustuhan ko sa kanya is yung pagiging leader niya," said the outspoken mentor.
"May trait siya ng pagiging leader, just like when I was handling Mark Cruz and Kevin Racal. This is his fifth year and makikita mo yung bata na he takes over eh."
For Balanza, there's really no secret to his quick recovery other than plain hard work.
"Wala naman akong ginawang extra, talagang hard work lang ako," the 6-3 Knights forward said. "Pinahirapan ko sarili ko kasi alam ko talaga na malayo pa ang hahabulin ko, kasi ang tagal kong nabakante eh.
"Di ko naman din expected na magiging ganoon ang laro ko, basta ang mindset ko lang, all-out talaga. Yun naman talaga lagi kong ginagawa eh. Tini-treat ko yung game ko as my last game," he said.
Balanza professed that he still gets scared whenever the game gets a little too physical, considering the short time he's had since his brush with mortality. But he has learned to overcome those fears to be able to play the game he loves.
"Last time, natakot ako sa banggaan. Pero naging lesson sa akin yun, na kung matatakot ako, walang mangyayari sa akin," he said, drawing confidence from the clearance his doctors gave him to get back on the court.
"May go signal naman na ako ng doktor kaya ano pa ba ang ikakatakot ko? Alam na naman ng mga eksperto kung pwede na ako eh, kaya binabalik ko na lang yung laro ko."