FORMER players from the PBA and the Asean Basketball League (ABL) play in this bush league in Marikina City, taking the games seriously but all the while waiting for something.
A call from a team for the next PBA tour of duty.
The 5th DeLeague, organized by the city government of the country's shoe capital, has attracted a curious mix of players, from former PBA standouts like Willie Miller, Leo Najardo, Eloy Poligrates to recently retired pros like Ali Peek and Nic Belasco to long-retired stars like EJ Feihl and Kiko Adriano.
They are joined in this 12-team tournament by former ABL MVP Leo Avenido, Froilan Baguion, Egay Echavez, Ervin Sotto, Kazim Mirza, Jonathan Parreno, Vaughn Canta, Arnold Gamboa, Gerson Franco, Hans Thiele, Raoul Soyud, Bonbon Custodio and Borghie Hermida.
They all came from different backgrounds but share one goal - to keep themselves busy and in shape while waiting for the next chance to play in the big league.
“Siyempre, kailangan namin to. Hindi porket paliga-liga lang na ganito, mahihina na. Malalakas rin lumalaro rito. Pero way ito ng pagpapa-kundisyon ko, so anytime may tawag, ready ako,” said Avenido, who will play for the FEU-NRMF team of player agent/businessman Nino Reyes.
“Saka mainam rin 'yung ganito na kahit wala ka na sa PBA, nakikita ka pa rin (ng fans) na kaya mo na. Kasi pag dito hindi ka pa rin pumutok, ibig sabihin wala ka na,” he said.
Former Barako Bull forward Najorda hopes that playing in the Deleague and other ‘ligang labas’ will once again open doors for him in the PBA or ABL.
“Pagmamahal sa basketball ito. Kaya pa naman naming maglaro eh. Kaya pa naman naming bumalik sa PBA,” said Najorda, before looking straight at the camera to send his message.
“Humanda kayo pag ako nakabalik, kakainin ko kayo (sa laro),” he said laughing.
A former NCAA MVP, Najorda suddenly found himself without a team after not getting a contract renewal from Barako Bull at the end of the PBA 39th season.
“Wala eh, nawalan tayo ng pwesto. Pero hindi naman tayo nawawalan ng pagasa. Kaya nga lumalaro rin tayo sa ganitong klase ng liga, para kahit papano, kundisyon ka,” he said while taking part in the FEU-NRMF team’s practice on Monday evening.
“Mahirap kasi kung nawalan ka na nga ng pwesto sa PBA, papabayaan mo pa sarili mo. Paano kung biglang may tumawag sa yo? E di wala ka sa kundisyon,” added the Ilocano cager.
Thiele, who was in KIA's (now Mahindra) lineup as late as season, believes it is not too late to continue chasing his dream in the PBA.
Thiele had a superb debut with Barako Bull before he was traded to Meralco in his same rookie year in 2010. He hasn't been the same since, but he hopes that his appearance in bush leagues will help him regain his confidence.
“Kailangan ko ito. Basketball pa rin ito. Importante, makuha mo ulit kumpiyansa mo. Parang balik talaga kami sa umpisa nito nung nagsisimula pa lang kami,” Thiele said.
“Ganun talaga ang buhay eh. Wala akong magagawa run,” said the former UE Red Warrior who also had stints with Alaska, Petron and back to Barako in the PBA.
He isn't giving up.
“Hindi ko rin alam. Pero gustong gusto kong makabalik ulit sa PBA,” he said.