JERRICK Balanza was a gangly rookie for the Aldin Ayo-mentored Letran squad in 2015 when he first won an NCAA title. Now the main man for the Knights, the 23-year-old is looking to end his collegiate career in the same manner that he started it: a champion.
"Yes, ako confident ako. Positive ako lagi," he said as the underdog Letran heads to battle against the undefeated defending champion San Beda in the NCAA Season 95 seniors basketball finals.
The Knights had to go through the eye of the needle just to get in this situation, edging San Sebastian, 85-80, before hurdling Lyceum, 92-88, to emerge the survivor of the stepladder semis.
But as much as odds are stacked against the Muralla crew, Balanza believes that it only helps his side become a better version of themselves.
"Ang Letran, sanay na underdog yan. Wala kaming foreign player, so talagang puso lang labanan. Patapangan, pangil sa pangil. Sa tagal ko sa Letran, yun ang natutunan ko, kung paano lumaban ng tama," he said.
It has also been a big season for Balanza after missing the latter half of last season as he underwent brain surgery.
"Sinabi ko dati na di na ako nape-pressure sa dami ng pinagdaanan ko, pero naramdaman ko ulit yung kaba. Pero nagdasal ako at si God ang nilapitan ko. Naisip ko na kaya Niya ako binigyan ng sakit at kaya ako nakabalik para dito sa championship," he said.
It feels like the closing chapters of a fairy tale, with the 6-foot-2 winger having a chance to cap off his NCAA career with a shot at the throne, no less against Letran's archrival San Beda.
Game One is on Tuesday at Mall of Asia Arena.
"Di man kami nanalo sa kanila sa dalawang beses sa eliminations, baka makabawi kami sa championship ng dalawang beses kung sakali," said Balanza, fully aware of the mountain the Knights will have to scale to topple the Red Lions. "Paghihirapan namin ito."