JIO Jalalon may be an accomplished professional player now, but getting to where he is now wasn't without its tribulations.
The Magnolia guard shared with The Prospects Pod the arduous journey he took from his days in Cagayan de Oro just to make a name for himself in Manila.
"Yung kwento ko nga parang MMK eh," he said with a chuckle.
Back in 2010, Jalalon was an unknown commodity from CDO when he, alongside three other teammates including JK Casiño from Sacred Heart of Jesus Montessori School, tried their luck in Manila.
"Pinadala pa kami ng coach namin, si coach Boy Dacoco, sa Arellano. One week kami na nag-tryout, dalawa lang yung kinuha," he reminisced.
Jalalon wasn't one of those picked, leaving him to fend for his own.
"Wala na kaming makain sa Arellano kasi hindi na kami binibigyan pagkatapos nung one week tryouts. Tinanong namin yung coach namin kung ano bang mangyayari sa amin kasi wala na eh, yung natira naming pera namin, P200 na lang," he said.
Luckily for him, his tryout also coincided with that year's NBTC tournament and he eventually played for the Mindanao team.
That's where coach Budds Reyes saw what he could bring to the table and recruited him to play for Informatics College.
"Doon ako nakita ni coach Budds. Sakto magkakilala sila ni coach Boy sa CDO kaya nag-usap sila," he said.
That character-defining experience has always stuck with the pesky 5-foot-9 defender.
"Doon ako nag-start talaga. Na-motivate yung sarili ko at sabi ko, ang hirap pala pag wala kang kakilala dito sa Maynila. Kung dayo ka lang, hindi ka talaga mabubuhay dito. Yun ang motivation ko," he said.
"Kaya pagdating ko sa Informatics, sobrang na-motivate ako na ganito pala dito. Kumbaga kailangan ko magpakita para mabigyan ako ng allowance, mabigyan ako ng tirahan. May time pa nga na Angel’s Burger na yung kinakain ko pagdating ko doon sa Informatics. Pero hindi pa rin ako nag-give up."
Jalalon played a season for the Icons in NAASCU before Arellano came back calling in 2012.
His stupendous performance also drew interest elsewhere, notably from Jerry Codiñera of University of the East.
It turns out, the two would eventually form a partnership in the Chiefs camp when Codiñera was hired to be the Chiefs' head coach in 2013.
"Kay coach Koy Banal ako galing talaga. Kinukuha nga ako ni coach Jerry sa UE, pero nung nalaman kong lilipat din pala siya doon, nag-stay na rin talaga ako," he said.
It was also the year where Jalalon made his NCAA debut and steered the Chiefs to two Finals appearances in his four years there, earning three Mythical Team nods before heading to the PBA through the special Gilas round of the 2016 PBA Draft.
Still, it's a character-building journey Jalalon will never be ashamed of talking about.
"Masarap din yung may struggle yung dinadaanan mo bago ka makarating dito," he said.