Mendoza is knocking on the PBA door via his stint with Converge in the league’s preseason tournament, several years after he became one of the top youth players of the country.
In 2014, Mendoza was the leading scorer of the Batang Gilas squad that competed in the 2014 Fiba Under-17 World Championships in Dubai. Some of the members of that team are now in the pros like Mike Nieto, Jollo Go, Richard Escoto, and Diego Dario.
That team also faced the United States, losing 124-64. The biggest name on that team was now Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum. In that group stage contest, Mendoza was the top scorer for Batang Gilas with 19 points.
Mendoza’s high school career also saw him win the Finals MVP in 2015 when he helped Ateneo beat National University for the UAAP crown.
His college career though didn’t have as much individual accolades as in high school after deciding to stay at Ateneo. He, however, was part of the Blue Eagles side that won three straight championships in the UAAP.
Initially, Mendoza’s plan was to take a respite from basketball after his college career. He retracted that plan, and eventually got an offer from Rizal to play in the MPBL.
“Unang plano ko talaga, magpapahinga muna ako, break from basketball. Pero mas pinili ko to fight through ‘yung nangyari sa Ateneo and gain my confidence back," he said. Thankful din ako sa team ko sa MPBL, sa Rizal, kasi binigyan din nila ako ng opportunity na makapaglaro at magandang exposure, pati sa PSL, boss Jacob [Lao], boss Frank [Lao]."
The move to the commercial leagues has seen a resurgence for Mendoza. During his stint with the Rizal Golden Coolers in the MPBL 2022 season, he led the team in scoring with 13.6 points per game.
The 25-year-old also led Pampanga Royce in scoring during the Pilipinas Super League last year, and it was through this stint where he got the shot at playing for Converge in the PBA's preseason tournament, which is open to undrafted players such as Mendoza.
“Suwerte lang din kasi ‘yung management namin sa PSL sa Royce, same management ng Converge. Nabigyan nila ako ng opportunity dito. Thankful ako kila boss Jacob, boss Frank Lao sa opportunity,” said Mendoza.
The plan for Mendoza is to enter the draft this year, hoping that his recent performance after the UAAP would gain interest from PBA teams.
“That’s the plan [draft]. Di ba nag-one year off ako after Ateneo to get my groove back kasi hindi nga masyadong nagamit sa Ateneo. I just wanted to gain my confidence back,” said Mendoza.
On the PBA on Tour, Mendoza said: “It’s also an opportunity for me to gauge my skills and see what else I can work on.”
Mendoza said he wants to follow the same route as former Ateneo teammate Aaron Black, who also saw limited time with the Blue Eagles during his UAAP career but eventually blossomed in the commercial ranks before being drafted by Meralco where he even became the best first-year player during the PBA bubble in 2020.
“Very unlikely journey. Parang sinundan ko rin ‘yung journey ni Aaron Black. ‘Yun ‘yung parang blueprint ko for my journey to the PBA. Hopefully, it turns out well,” said Mendoza.
Mendoza feels like he also shown improvements in his game as well as his physical skills after his Blue Eagles stay.
“Individually, I think I was able to improve a lot. Other than gaining my confidence back, I was able to work on a lot of aspects in my game that I needed to work on. I think I made the right decision.”
“Skill-work, nag-ano ako kay coach Pat sa Better Basketball, strength and conditioning, very thankful ako kay coach Dwight Demayo. He is one of the best in the business. Ang laking tulong niya and I felt na lumakas katawan ko, bumilis ako. But there’s still more work to do,” said Mendoza.
His foray at Converge has also reunited him with Nieto, who was recently acquired by the FiberXers in a trade with Rain or Shine.
“Siyempre, very excited. Kababata ko si Mike. First time ko mag-basketball sa Ateneo, teammate ko na sila ni Matt. I was six years old then. Ngayon, 19 years later, I’m 25. Very thankful ako na I get the opportunity to share the court with them as well along with Adrian Wong na naging teammate ko sa Ateneo,” said Mendoza.
Thus far, Mendoza has only seen action in one game with the FiberXers in the PBA on Tour, but this early, he is learning a lot already.
“I’ve only been practicing for Converge for roughly a week and a half. I’m still trying to get my groove on and timing. Pagpasok ko, pagbalik ko sa bench, sabi ko parang ang bilis ng laro pero pag pinapanood mo, ang bagal naman. Adjustment din talaga pero enjoy ko ‘yung challenge at ‘yung opportunity na ‘to,” said Mendoza.