IF there’s a reason why St. Benilde is considered as this year’s darkhorse, look no further. It all starts with Justin Gutang.
The Blazers' renaissance wouldn't have been possible had the versatile 6-foot-3 forward not taken a leap of faith when coaches TY Tang and Charles Tiu went on a scouting trip in the US.
“My AAU coach in high school messaged me and told me to go to this gym. I had no idea it was a tryout cause I was waiting on other schools in the States as well,” Gutang recounted.
“When I finally showed up, that’s when I met coach TY and coach Charles and they had me go through the tryout drills. As soon as that was over, coach TY pulled me aside and explained to me that if I come here, if I’m trying to aim for the PBA, he can make it happen.”
Gutang admitted that he had his doubts at first, saying, “It did seem sketchy at first with the little brochures (the coaches) handed out.”
But the Fil-Am was off to the Philippines soon enough.
“I even talked to my family members not only in the States but out here in Laguna, too. They told me that this is one of the best schools here, not only for basketball but for my education as well. I’m here not only to get one of the best degrees, but to also play basketball for one of the great schools out here,” he said.
The talk with Tang also factored into Gutang’s decision, since the PBA option sounded alluring.
“That’s what really got my attention. Just the way he talked to me and how he approached me, I can sense that this guy is serious. Everything he says seems guaranteed. It’s just on me now if I really want it. It’s up to me to make it happen,” he said.
Gutang has wasted no time finding his niche under the tutelage of Tang, and it has contributed to a fine preseason that made the Blazers among the teams to watch this NCAA season.
But it wasn't as easy as it looked, the player said.
“Coach Ty said I’ve adjusted quick. But the transition of leaving and going into a different country, leaving your family members behind, that’s always hard. But I’m not only doing this for me. I’m doing this for them, too."
"Yeah, the transition early on was hard just because of the weather, and the physicality of the sport is different here compared to the States. But thank God, I know a little bit of Tagalog, so that kind of helped me transition to playing here,” the 21-year-old said.
“It’s fun to play for a young coaching staff cause you get to interact with them. It’s easier to talk to them because they know what it’s like. They’re kind of like our big brothers, our father-figures. I just feel it’s easier to make a relationship with them.”
After giving a good account of himself in the preseason, Gutang is now under the microscope as the Blazers try to prove that they're for real.
“I think, to me, the difference here is now, we have a chance to compete against other teams. We have that drive that we all want to compete and win, to change that Benilde you know which is always at the bottom.
"I got my guys, my brothers. We’re together all the time and we’ll walk to war, we’ll still be together on the court. It doesn’t matter what the record is, as long as we’re just out there playing the hardest and just letting it all out on the court,” he said.
“Now, this is our chance to aim for the top.”