JOLO'S best-kept secret is out as Das Esa gets his moment in the spotlight in the Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3x3 President's Cup.
The 5-foot-10 dribbler will be one of the main cogs for Zamboanga Valientes as they try to make their mark in the 3x3 circuit.
But Esa is not just any other baller.
He's already a cult hero in his own right, earning the moniker "Tausug Hero" as fans down south loudly cheer his name whenever he takes court.
"Syempre mahirap yun," he remarked, humbled by the praise yet fully aware of the pressure that comes with his reputation.
"Hindi ko akalain na ganoon ang itatawag nila sa akin. Supposed to be, dapat normal na tao lang ako pero binigyan ako ng pangalan na yun. Malaking pressure siya kaya ine-enjoy ko na lang."
Yet he deserves everything he's getting right now for all the sacrifices he had to make just to get a chance to show what he's made of.
Without much opportunities in Sulu, Esa took his talents to mainland Mindanao where he tested his wares against the best out there.
"Sa Jolo, mahirap yung laro ng basketball doon. Mahirap makakuha ng improvements doon kaya pumunta kami ng Zamboanga para ma-expose sa iba't ibang liga," he said.
By his sheer talent alone, Esa did pique the interest of Valientes owner Junnie Navarro, who wasted no time bringing in the Jolo native to his camp and gave him the breaks he was looking for.
"Na-scout ko siya sa Zamboanga, sa Ramadan Cup. Si Das Esa ang isa sa mga nagpanalo ng laro doon. Kaya nung nakita ko siya, immediately kinuha ko siya para sa MPBL," the team owner said.
With Esa's lore growing, so came the fans who proudly cheered his name when Zamboanga played a home game in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL).
"Nung nag-home game kami sa Zamboanga, full house yung coliseum at sinisigaw yung name niya. Simula nun, kahit san kami pumunta, sinusundan siya ng mga tao. Parang hero talaga siya sa Zamboanga," reminisced Navarro.
The same was seen in the Chooks-to-Go 3x3 preseason when a large delegation of Zamboangueno fans shouted Esa's name in the two games the team played.
The Valientes may be regarded as an underdog, but Esa believes that in the 3x3 circuit, height doesn't necessarily mean might.
And they will try to prove just that as they proudly hoist the flag for the South.
"Iba yung experience dito. Yung kalaban mo malalaki. Kami maliliit lang, kaya kailangan namin daanin sa bilis," said Esa, who will pair up with fellow homegrown talents like Jonathan Parreno and Grevanni Rublico.
Navarro ended: "Yung Valientes talaga yung team ng Zamboanga City. Mahal ng tao at sinusundan. Ngayon, susundan nila ito sa Chooks-to-Go 3x3 dahil homegrown talaga kami. Bagong simula itong 3x3 ito. Lahat ng laro i-dedecate namin sa kanila."