BASKETBALL great Jimmy Mariano was reunited on Wednesday with two of his former players from Philippine Christian University who made it big.
Mariano crossed paths with Jayson Castro and Beau Belga during a lunch organized by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas for the Team Pilipinas squad that will be seeing action in the fifth window of the Fiba Basketball World Cup Asian qualifiers.
Mariano, 77, who competed in the Olympics in 1968 and 1972, recalled Castro, Belga, and another PCU great, Gabby Espinas, were all walk-ins in tryouts. The trio went on to lead the Dolphins to their only NCAA title in 2004 under coach Ato Tolentino.
“’Yung dalawang ‘yan walk-in tryout. Si Belga, akay-akay ng nanay. Sabi, ‘Coach, magta-tryout ‘yung anak ko.’ Taga-Bicol eh. Sabi ko, sige ho. And then Jayson, galing Pampanga. Dinala sa akin ng assistant ko … Actually, tatlo sila, pati si Espinas,” said Mariano.
Mariano said he was no longer surprised that the two players got this far in their basketball careers.
“Napuna ko ang laki ng kamay,” said Mariano, referring to Castro. “From that, talagang makikita mo ang passion. Sa player naman, makikita mo kung anong klaseng player siya. Makikita mo ‘yung passion, naiiwan sa court para mag-extra (work).”
“Si Belga nagulat ako kasi dati, kasing-katawan ko lang ‘yan. Tapos makita ko, malaki na,” said Mariano in jest.
Castro and Belga were glad to see their old mentor, who was among the cage greats invited to inspire the Team Pilipinas ahead of its matches against Kazakhstan on Friday and against Iran on Dec. 3.
“Maayos naman at binigyan kami ng konting recognition. Sana ma-inspire namin ‘yung mga maglalaro. Sabi ko nga, they are blessed. Lahat ng modern equipment, meron sila. ‘Yung advance technology meron sila. Meron silang viewing, weight rooms, at masasarap mga kinakain nila. Kaya hindi ka na magtataka," Mariano said.
Mariano, the captain of the Philippine team that won the Asian championship in 1973 in Manila, said playing for the national team is both an honor and a commitment.
“Ang sinabi ko lang, to play for the national team is a commitment. And play with purpose. Oo nga, nag-commit ka nga pero wala sa isip mo ‘yung manalo ka. Kailangan may purpose. Sana ‘yan ang mangyari sa kanila sa Friday at sa Monday,” said Mariano.