IF there is one player we're rooting for to have his name called in the PBA Rookie Draft, it should be Gino Jumao-as.
Jumao-as is one of 53 hopefuls hoping to be picked in Sunday's draft at the Robinsons Midtown mall in Ermita, Manila - a long way from Zambonga which the kid left years ago by hitching a ride with the Marines on board a C-130 plane, and with only P500 in his pocket, just to pursue his PBA dream.
So when you tell him it can't be done, he'll say, 'Tell that to the Marines.'
He was like any other kid playing in sandlot courts dreaming of making it big in basketball - a chance to play in the PBA very much a longshot until he attended a tryout held by the University of the Philippines in Zamboanga presided over by then-assistant coach Potit De Vera.
The catch, however, was he was still in high school when he attended that tryout - and therefore too young to play for any college team.
“Nag-try out ‘yung kapatid ko, sabi ko sa kanya kung puwede akong sumama kasi gusto ko lang maka-experience mag-try out. Hindi ko sinabi na high school pa lang ako,” said Jumao-as.
Jumao-as passed the tryouts with flying colors against older foes including his brother, and it was only then when De Vera learned that he was still young to play in college. But the tryout opened doors for Jumao-as as De Vera encouraged him to go to Manila to play high school basketball.
Passing the tryouts, however, turned out to be the easy part. Coming from a poor family, it was hard for Jumao-as to spend for a trip to Manila. Fortunately, Jumao-as had a neighbor who works for the Philippine Marines, and that paved the way for his trip to Manila.
“Nag C-130 ako,” said Jumao-as smiling. “Nagpa-schedule lang kami, bahala na sa Manila."
“Wala akong budget. Siguro pera ko, hindi aabot sa P500. Mga kasabay ko, mga injured na sundalo,” he added.
Fortunately, the son of a Zamboangueno carpenter was taken cared of by De Vera once he reached Manila and helped him find a high school team to play for. Another Zamboangueno basketball player, now Star guard RR Garcia, also took Jumao-as in until San Sebastian signed him up.
“Pagdating ko sa Manila, kinita ko muna si coach Potit,” said Jumao-as of De Vera, who he considers his second father. “Binigyan niya ako ng allowance, tapos pinapunta ako sa mga tryout."
“Pumunta rin ako kay RR, tumira muna ako sa kanila kasi wala akong matuluyan. Tinulungan niya ako, pinapakain niya ako. Nakuha naman ako ng Baste,” he added.
While playing for San Sebastian, Jumao-as helped the Staglets reach the NCAA finals against the mighty San Beda squad before eventually making it to the UAAP with Far Eastern University, and later, University of the East.
Now 24, Jumao-as, who is coming off a stint with the ZC Mindanao Aguilas in the PBA D-League, is knocking on the PBA door, thrilled to get the chance to be a pro and help his poor family back in Zamboanga.
“Gusto kong matulungan pamilya ko,” said the 6-foot-2 guard, who still has a 10-year-old brother still in school. “Gusto kong mapag-aral ‘yung kapatid ko na bunso.”
But whether he gets picked or not, Jumao-as is taking a nothing-to-lose mentality, content in the thought that he has done everything in his power to make his dream come true. It was no surprise he was the hardest working player in the two-day PBA Draft Combine days ago.
“Binigay ko ‘yung best ko. Pinakita ko kung ano dapat kong gawin," he said. "Nothing to lose. Alam ko sa sarili ko na binigay ko ang best ko para sa pamilya ko.”