FOURTEEN months ago, Jerrick Balanza was on a hospital bed, about to go under the knife on a dangerous surgery to remove a brain tumor.
It was a life-and-death situation for the Tondo-born winger, but all he cared for was the team he left.
Fast forward to now and here he is, standing strong with his hands in the air in jubilation, ending his collegiate career the same way he started it: a champion.
"Isa lang ang masasabi ko: Sobrang bait ni God," he said after Letran's 81-79 conquest of San Beda to win the NCAA Season 95 seniors basketball title on Wednesday.
The 23-year-old played the game of his life with a game-high 27 points, seven rebounds, and three assists in a heroic performance capped by him stifling Evan Nelle's late three to lock up the victory and claim the Knights' first championship in four years.
It was a fitting redemption story for Balanza, but he has played this scenario repeatedly ever since he went down with the injury and saw his career momentarily cut.
"Talagang lugmok na lugmok na ako nung time na yun eh. Wala akong ginawa kundi maniwala sa Kanya at maging positibo lang," he said, looking back at what was easily the lowest point of his life.
But the 6-foot-2 captain made sure everything would go as planned once he made his hardcourt comeback.
"Simula pa lang, na-envision ko na pagbalik ko magcha-champion kami dahil yun ang pinakamagandang plano ni God sa akin at sa team," he said, returning to action in January and getting his bearings back in preparation for his final collegiate year.
Even after a heart-wrenching 79-76 Game Two defeat in the Finals, Balanza's faith never wavered, insisting that until the end, this throne was Letran's for the taking.
His words didn't fall on deaf ears.
"Yung teammates ko, naniwala sa akin," he said. "After ng Game Two, yung iba sobrang down. Akala nila di na kami mananalo sa Game Three. Pero ako, as captain, kailangan ko silang dalhin para maglaro kami sa Game Three at sinimulan namin sa ensayo na parang kami na yung champion."
And Balanza made true to his promise, taking the victory by the neck and deliver this 18th NCAA crown to Muralla.
It was an emotional roller coaster for Balanza, but that's just the legacy he wanted to leave as he bid his collegiate career goodbye.
"Sobrang sarap ng pakiramdam na napasalamatan ko ang Letran community at lahat ng naniwala sa amin sa pamamagitan nitong championship," he said. "Ito yung ginawang way ni God para mapasalamatan ko sila."