DREAM come true.
That’s how Jhan Nermal described his signing with San Miguel in the PBA 3x3 since the Beermen are his favorite team since he was a kid, having admired Arwind Santos ever since because of what he went through before becoming a PBA player.
“Nung nagka-cellphone ako na touch screen, nung nagkaka-data na talaga, nanonood ako ng mga kuwentong buhay ng mga PBA players na galing din sa hirap lalo na kay Arwind Santos,” said Nermal of the former SMB star.
“Idol ko talaga siya since Day One. Dati nagbebenta lang siya ng kwek kwek, nagba-bike siya, hanggang sa nakuha siya sa FEU at naging PBA player siya. Sabi ko, kaya ko rin siguro ‘to. Tiyagain ko lang.
"Hindi hadlang ang kahirapan para sa pangarap. Natupad din po. Sana magtuloy-tuloy.”
The 28-year-old Nermal has definitely come a long way since his younger days at Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental.
Playing in the PBA seemed far-fetched in high school as Nermal didn’t even make it to a team in the intramurals. Life was so hard for Nermal that he decided to take up welding as a vocational course in lieu of a college diploma.
“Dami ko rin tinry-out nung high school pa lang,” said Nermal. “Kahit intramurals, hindi po ako makuha dahil maliit at payat ako. Nag-graduate ako ng high school, nag-istambay muna ako, ligang labas, tatluhan, sa mga kanto-kanto, sa baba ng niyog.”
“Nag-aral ako ng welder. Mahirap po talaga kami. Nag-welding po ako ng isang taon, nag-aral ako para lang makapag-aral ako kahit vocational. Graduate ako ng welder,” he added.
But basketball was simply in the blood of Nermal, so much so that he took up a job as a construction worker not only to help in the family income but also to be able to fund his participation in an inter-purok team.
“Nag-construction worker ako para may pambili kasi may inter-purok sa amin ... para may pambili ng sapatos at para pambayad ng entrance fee kahit hindi ako nagagamit, kasi gusto ko talaga mag-basketball,” said Nermal.
Determination pays off
His determination finally paid dividends when he tried out for STI-West Negros University, one of the top collegiate programs in the province.
Nermal made the cut at WNU and persevered to earn his spot in the team while fighting homesickness, knowing that life won't be any better if he do something about it.
“Tinulungan ako ng isang coach sa Negros at player din sa Manila, si Mark Anthony Marcos at Allen Maravilla na pumunta ako sa West Negros at mag-tryout … Nakuha rin ako sa West Negros," he recounted.
"Mahirap din buhay doon dahil malayo sa family ko. Walang mapupuntahan talaga na mag-susuporta sa amin dahil mahirap din po pamilya ko. Kailangang tumayo sa sarili.
"Tinamaan agad ako ng homesick pero kapag umuwi ako, baka maging magsasaka ako o tricycle driver. Hindi ko ma-explain ang maabutan ko kung hindi ako magpu-push sa pagba-basketball,” said Nermal.
Nermal played for STI-WNU in the Negros Occidental Negros Occidental Private Schools Sports Cultural Educational Association (Nopsscea) from 2013 to 2016, but got his biggest break when he was named MVP in the national tournament among all STI schools in the country.
He soon became well-known in Negros, becoming in demand for several tournaments and ligang labas. But he continued to pursue his education, with some of his earnings from ligang labas stints going to his tuition. He graduated in 2019.
Nermal finally took a leap of faith when he garnered a spot in the Bulacan Kuyas team coached by Britt Reroma in the MPBL in 2019 through the help of his college coach and former University of the Philippines cager Mark Jomalesa.
“After ng graduation ko nung 2019, kinuha agad ako ni coach Britt Reroma. Tinulungan din ako ni coach Mark Jomalesa. Na-push niya ako dito, nagbigay sa akin ng allowance at si Sir Tony Agustin (WNU official). Pumunta ako sa Manila, pamasahe lang,” said Nermal.
Big break with San Miguel
Two years after that move to Manila, the 6-foot-3 Nermal got another big break when he was signed by SMB as one of its 3x3 players, but that also didn’t come on a silver platter.
Despite playing in the MPBL, Nermal was forced to work outside basketball during the pandemic, being a law enforcer for the Land Transportation Office in Pampanga where he is based with his wife. He also sold frozen food for additional income as basketball opportunities were few and far between.
His luck changed following the formation of the Burlington EOG team in the Filbasket with Reroma as coach and JR Guevarra as the team’s boss. It was there that unknown to him, Nermal caught the eye of San Miguel 3x3 coach Boycie Zamar.
“Na-scout ako ni coach Boycie dahil siguro nanonood sila ng mga games, lalo na’t Ilonggo din ako. Mas gusto ata nila ‘yung mga Ilonggo,” said Nermal with a smile.
After his stint in the Filbasket bubble, Nermal joined San Miguel just last Monday, two days before the second leg of the PBA 3x3 - news that he only shared with his family after he signed the contract.
“Nagulat sila dahil [Monday] ko lang sinabi. Kahit sa misis ko, [Monday] ko lang sinabi. Nakapirma na ako ng kontrata. Sabi niya, anong team, sabi ko San Miguel. Nagulat sila. Natuwa sila. PBA ‘yun eh. PBA is PBA,” said Nermal.
Teaming up with Jeff Manday
The Beermen gig reunited him with fellow Ilonggo and former rival Jeff Manday, who played for Colegio de Santa Ana de Victorias in college. Nermal said he faced off with Manday in several competitions back home, from college to ligang labas.
Nermal remembered being teammate with Manday only once. By his own estimates, he had faced Manday in different levels of basketball in Negros more than 20 times.
“Kami po talaga magkalaban lagi. Team nila at team ko po, lagi naming nakakalaban. Sa West Negros, sa mga ligang labas, lagi kaming nagkikitang dalawa na magkalaban,” said Nermal.
Nermal said he is happy to have a familiar face as teammate in Manday, knowing too the difficult times that Manday had to go through in order to make it to the PBA 3x3. Nermal said they vowed to work hard in order to stay with the Beermen.
“Nung nalaman niya na magkakasama kami, nag-lunch pa kaming dalawa. Sabi niya, 'Magkakasama na tayo, hindi natin akalain. ‘Yung buhay natin sa Negros, siya mangingisda, ako construction worker, tapos nandito na tayo.'
"Sabi ko, 'Ang galing talaga ng Panginoon. Pahalagahan natin ‘to at kailangan natin tiyagain na makuha natin ang titulo para rin sa career natin at sa pamilya natin,” said Nermal.
After getting the opportunity of a lifetime, Nermal promised to give it his best shot.
“PBA po ‘yan. Expect ko po na physical at maraming banggaan. Lahat gustong manalo. Kami din po. Gusto ko ma-prove sa sarili ko na kaya kong mag-PBA,” said Nermal, who eventually plans to apply for the PBA rookie draft.
“Tutal, nandito na ako, bibigay ko ‘yung best ko para makatulong sa team at mapatunayan ko sa sarili ko na kaya ko,” he added.