IAN Melencio has not played a single game in any major amateur and professional commercial league prior to setting foot in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL).
He has become an instant hit.
Melencio, 28, is making quite a splash as the top scoring threat of the Imus Bandera in the league's maiden Anta Rajah Cup. Not bad for a player who after college played mostly in barangay leagues, recreational leagues, and 'ligang labas' games.
“Hindi ko po inexpect ‘to,” the peppery point guard said. “Hindi ako makapaniwala na nakalaro ako dito. Binigyan ako ng chance ng Imus na makapaglaro dito. Dahil doon, binibigay ko ang best ko at pinapakita ko ang talent ko.”
Melencio stands only 5-foot-8 and, until recently, his biggest achievement was becoming a varsity player at Asian Institute of Maritime Studies.
Since then, Melencio has played in all kinds of leagues - from 6-feet below leagues to the Marikina DEL League to overseas tournaments, recently suiting up to play a 10-day tournament in Malaysia.
But he has developed a cult following in his home province of Cavite, where he was spotted by Imus councilor Leonardo Antonio Deocadis and tapped to play for the Bandera in the home-and-away league formed by Sen. Manny Pacquiao.
“Tiga-Kawit ako, nakapag-asawa ako ng tiga-Noveleta. Napupunta po ako sa Imus dahil kay Councilor Deocadis. Kinuha niya ako, tinanggap niya ako sa mga liga doon sa Imus,” said Melencio.
Perhaps those officials themselves are surprised to see Melencio playing so well in a league featuring several ex-PBA stars and former college standouts.
Through eight games in the Rajah Cup, Melencio is averaging a team-best 15.5 points - far better than most ex-pros in the field.
He was quick to play down his impressive play.
“Role ko lang po (‘yung ginagawa ko). Tulungan lang po kami ng mga kakampi ko. Kapag shoot, okay lang nandyan naman ‘yun. Ang importante teamwork,” said Melencio.
Melencio said the MPBL has changed his life, shyly admitting that he has been getting several photo requests from fans when he's out in malls. His Facebook page now has over 18,000 followers.
“Sa labas po, siyempre napapanoood sa TV. Siyempre nahihiya po ako. Hindi naman kasi ako dati ganun. Kapag nasa labas, tahimik lang,” said Melencio.
“Tuloy-tuloy lang po kung saan aabot career ko. Kung saan po aabot, papasalamat ako. Papasalamat ako kay God kasi binigyan niya ako ng talent na ‘to. Itong talent na ‘to, aalagaan ko na lang,” Melencio, who is not related to former national player Tembong, said.
“Nagpapasalamat ako kay Sen. Manny (Pacquiao). Kung hindi dahil sa kanya, wala kami ngayon sa Maharlika. Sana magdere-derecho ito,” Melencio said.
The Imus Bandera are on the bubble in the race for quarterfinal berths, currently tied with Bataan for the eighth and final spot at 2-6 heading to the final week of the eliminations.
Melencio expects Imus to fight to the end.
“Nung umpisa, eight days lang po preparation bago sumali ng Maharlika. Ngayon, nakakapag-jell na kami at nakukundisyon na ang bawat isa. Mas okay na po takbo ng team,” he said.