MARK Barroca has certainly established himself as the quickest players in the PBA today.
But did you know that around this time 11 years ago, San Mig's pint-sized starting guard from Zamboanga City was trying to be the fastest man in the Palarong Pambansa in Tubod, Lanao del Norte - not on the basketball court but on the track.
“Third year (student) ako noon sa Ayala High School (in Zamboanga)," the rising PBA star told Spin.ph of his experience of competing for Region 9 (Zamboanga Peninsula) against some of the best high school sprinters in the country in the 100-meter dash.
"Nag-qualify ako noon sa Palarong Pambansa, first time ko na nakasali, kasi dati laging regional lang ako,” Barroca added.
He eventually lost to a Cebuano runner and missed out on a podium finish.
“Talo ako dun, fourth lang ako. Kasi masyadong experience yung mga kalaban ko noon. Wala pa nga entry ang NCR (National Capital Region) noon kasi nag-boycott ata sila, di ba,” he said.
Still, Barroca said competing against the best sprinters in the country left an indelible mark on him.
“Doon ko unang na-experience kung paano ko makalaban ang mga taga ibang lugar. Doon ako mas na-motivate na makipag-sabayan sa mga pambato ng iba,” said Barroca.
The 28-year-old former FEU Tamaraw bared that he didn't really take basketball seriously at that time.
“Dati kasi hindi ako masyado naglalaro ng basketball. Saka maliit ako nun eh. Saka that time, malilit ang Region 9 sa basketball kaya alam ko na mahihirapan kaming mag-qualify sa regional,” he said.
“Gusto ko talaga nung time na 'yun ay mag-travel tapos lumaban sa mga taga ibang lugar.”
And how did he end up playing basketball?
“Nung nag-graduate na ako sa high school, wala akong pangpaaral. Wala naman trabaho nanay ko, patay na tatay ko. So naghanap ako ng way para makakuha ng scholarship,” Barroca disclosed.
“So dun ako nag-focus ng basketball. Naglaro na ako araw-araw, tapos sinabayan ko lang talaga ng hardwork at panalangin sa Diyos,” he added.
Barroca spent the next two years honing his skills, motivated as he was to rise to the challenge. He ended up getting a basketball scholarship from Far Eastern University and eventually became co-captain of the original Gilas team under Rajko Toroman.
And now his star continues to rise as San Mig's steadiest player in the PBA.
“Gustong gusto ko kasi na tsina-challenge sarili ko na sumabay sa mga magagaling ng kalaban. Ganun rin ako noon nung nagba-basketball na ako, saka that time alam ko walang mangyayari sa buhay ko kung hindi ako nagsumikap para makapagaral,” he said.
“Ang target ko kasi lagi noon, talunin yung mga kalaban. Ganun rin ako nung nasa Gilas na ako, ayaw kong magpatalo sa ibang lugar,” he said laughing.
And would you believe that at 5-9, one of the smallest players among PBA starters has already recorded shot blocks against the league’s tallest cagers in Asi Taulava, Gregory Slaughter and June Mar Fajardo?
“(Laughed) Nata-timing-ang ko lang naman sila. Saka motivation ko kasi yung kasabihan na sinabi ko sa plug ng Sports Radio yung: ‘Sa basketball, normal na kailangan ang height, pero kung malaki ang puso mo, malaki rin ang ilalaro mo,” he said.
From competing against the fastest high school sprinters in the country 11 years ago to proving himself against the best basketball players in the PBA, Barroca now dreams of pitting his skills against the best cagers in the world as part of Gilas Pilipinas.
“Sayang nga kinapos kami nun (with the original Gilas team), pero proud ako sa Gilas ngayon kasi narating nila yung mission namin nuon, world stage gaya ng Olympics. Atleast sila ngayon, World Cup pa,” he said.
“Pero kung kailangan nila ako, kung pwede ako maglaro sa kanila, ibibigay ko ang laro ko sa kanila (national team),” Barroca added.