THE ring once felt as big as a bathtub for Joshua Saret, who, as a high school phenom, once scored 89 points for Jose Rizal University in a single NCAA juniors game - a record that remained untouched to this day.
Almost a decade later, he's still trying to fulfill expectations heightened by that single game.
So what happened?
Saret's life story changed drastically in the afternoon of July 22, 2009 when the then 18-year old crowned a quadruple-double performance with a record output in JRU's 171-43 rout of Angeles University Foundation at The Arena in San Juan.
According to existing records, the 5-foot-7 guard made 50 percent of his shots - and 78 percent from three-point land - on 19-of-26 shooting to erase the previous record of 82 set by teammate Keith Agovida just the year before.
To top it off, Saret added 11 rebounds, 12 assists, and 13 steals to become the first NCAA juniors player after Ryan Buenafe, then playing for San Sebastian, to complete a quadruple double in a league game.
By then, Saret had the world at his feet as coaches and scouts came calling, each one expressing interest in signing up the phenom.
Nine years after that historic game, SPIN.ph sought out the former phenom. We found him in an old basketball court in West Crame, San Juan City - a far cry from the fancy arenas he used to play in during high school and in his one season in college.
He was wearing a white basketball jersey, doing some stretching and shooting practice while waiting for his teammates with San Juan Big Chill, which will be seeing action in the inaugural Metro League.
His on-court demeanor was still the same: serious and all business as he went through his paces. Not far from the gym is the apartment where he stays with his family. There the soft-spoken Saret let his guard down and shared his thoughts.
“Feeling ko noon, sobrang hindi ko maintindihan, masaya tapos isa pa ‘yung iniisip ko na hindi ko akalaing nagawa ko ‘yung ganoong points tapos quadruple double pa,” he said, eyes lighting up as he looked back on his record-breaking game.
His mood was no longer as cheerful when asked what happened next.
Although a lot of high-profile teams and coaches, among them Ateneo's Norman Black, showed interest, Saret decided to play for University of the Philippines where he became part of the Maroons side that finished 0-14 in UAAP Season 73.
Worse, the coach who brought him to Diliman, Aboy Castro, was fired just two games into the season.
“Masakit ‘yun kahit sino ba naman, 0-14, kahit isang panalo o dalawang panalo okay lang,” said Saret. “Mas masakit kasi kung sino ‘yung coach na kumuha sa akin, second game pa lang namin, tinanggal na siya agad."
From there, his career took one bad turn after another. Leaving college early, Saret tried his luck with Blackwater in the PBA D-League. When that didn't work out, he enrolled at Trinity University of Asia then suited up for Zambales M Builders, also in the D-League.
Each step, each bad decision only brought him farther and farther from his ultimate dream: to play in the PBA.
But he isn't giving up.
“Inisip ko pa rin naman ‘yun (mag-PBA). Hanggang ngayon nag-iisip pa rin ako na kaya ko pa rin naman eh kasi ilang taon pa lang naman ako,” he said defiantly.
Now 27 and with two kids of his own, Saret had this pained look on his face when asked where it all went wrong. He was unsure about a lot of things, but is now 100 percent certain that he shouldn't have left college after one season.
“Meron, meron (regrets) kasi sayang din talaga eh. Kasi ilang years ang college eh, five, sayang. Nakaka-ano rin talaga, nasayang ko ‘yung apat na taon (sa UAAP) na playing years ko eh,” Saret said.
Boyet Fernandez, who replaced Castro at UP during Saret's only season with the Maroons, remembered how good the kid was.
“Maliit siya but he’s quick, he can shoot threes consistently and, defensively, dahil maliit siya, he can press. Competitive siya, ayaw niya talaga magpatalo. He was never late during practices,” Fernandez said.
The mult-titled coach had a perfect explanation on why Saret didn't get the minutes at point guard back then.
“He’s a good point guard, there’s no question about that,’ said Fernandez. “But, at that time, I had Mikee Reyes (as starting point guard), so timing lang siguro.”
“During that time, ang alam ko naglaro siya sa labas, sa commercial league, na hindi yata pinayagan ng coach niya, I’m not sure, because my contract with UP was only for one season,” he added.
Still, Fernandez believes great things could've come Saret's way, both on the court and off it, had he stayed at UP.
“Sayang ‘yung bata,” the current San Beda coach sighed. “Magaling siya and mabait naman. Kung nag-stay siya sa UP, who knows, maybe he’ll make it sa PBA or if not, being a UP graduate can take you places.
"Sayang ‘yung opportunity na he’s in UP.”
Even Saret's longtime mentor at Brgy. West Crame, Owie Laruscain, agreed.
“Noong nasa UP siya is medyo bumaba ang laro, nawala ang confidence. Doon na ako nanghinayang noong naglaro siya sa D-League which is ‘yun ‘yung naging hindrance niya eh,” he said. “Dapat na nasa UAAP pa rin siya at that time eh.”
“Knowing Joshua, minsan kasi dumarating sa point ng isang player na ‘yung gusto mong ibigay ang best pero hindi mo nakikitang mabibigyan ka ng chance,” he added. "Pero kahit pa sabihin mong you don’t have enough playing time sa UP, at least UAAP.”
Saret has gone through a spate of misfortunes in his career, but he should consider himself lucky to have his older brother Jet by his side in every failed or successful tryout and in every single game - be it in a big arena or a in nondescript barangay gym.
Jet said he has gone through his own emotional roller-coaster standing by his brother.
“‘Yung time na nag-struggle, syempre masakit, masakit din sa akin lalo na ‘yung mga kasabayan niya nga nakikita namin ina-ano ko na sana andyan ka, pero nangyari na ‘yan. Ang ina-ano ko na lang sa kanya, come back stronger,” said Jet.
There were times Jet felt like giving up. But no matter how trying the journey has been, he made sure to be there for his kid brother, especially after their father, former player Eliseo 'Boy' Saret, passed away five years ago.
“Meron ‘yung time na give up na rin ako pero pag dating na naman kinabukasan, (naiisip ko) na sayang, kaya pa,” Jet said. “Hanggang ngayon, nandito pa rin ako, syempre kapatid ko ‘yan, hanggang dulo, walang bitawan."
Joshua is honest enough to admit that he feels nothing but regret when he looks back on his career path, and more so when he sees former teammates Louie Vigil and Agovida now with San Miguel in the PBA.
“Syempre, para sa akin pag nakikita ko sila, naiisip ko ‘yung dati kasama ko lang ‘yan, dati magkasama kami sa training, kasama kong kumakain, kasama kong kabiruan,” Saret said, his voice fading after every word.
But Saret is not giving up. He can't, more so now that he has mouths to feed in three-year old son Zach Riley and newborn daughter Jilliane Reese.
“Syempre sa (mga) baby ko, para sa kanila ‘tong paghihirap ko, para sa pamilya ko,” said Saret. “Ito nga, meron ngang bagong liga na parating. Kumbaga ito ‘yung first step ko para makita nila ako ulit, na nandito pa ako, naglalaro pa."