JIO Jalalon has been billed as the model for feisty guards from the provincial leagues who make waves in the top university competitions, and UST high school star Mark Nonoy is following his lead.
"Sipag lang. Go hard siya lagi eh, sunod lang sa sistema," the young playmaker said of the Magnolia guard.
Drawing inspiration from his idol so much that he also wore jersey No. 6, Nonoy stamped his mark in his lone season with UST this past UAAP Season 81 juniors' basketball tournament, doing everything to lead the Tiger Cubs to fifth place this year.
He averaged 21.6 points, 9.1 rebounds and 5.9 assists, registering three triple-doubles.
Coming off that confidence-boosting campaign in the high school ranks, the 18-year-old joins the Growling Tigers in the 2019 PBA D-League season, making him one of the youngest to ever set foot in the developmental league.
"Bukas magte-training na ako sa seniors. Walang pahinga-pahinga," he remarked after UST's 85-64 victory over De La Salle-Zobel on Sunday.
Nonoy said that he's prepared himself for this moment since transferring from Hua Siong College of Iloilo, believing that he has done everything in his power to be ready for this next step in his basketball career.
"Tingin ko naman ready na ako," he said. "Syempre this season, bago lang ako nakalaro sa UAAP, pero binibigyan lang nila ako ng confidence sa sarili ko na kaya ko na magsalpak sa college. Excited na excited na ako na makasama yung magagaling at makalaban ko na yung magagaling din."
Tiger Cubs coach Bonnie Garcia agrees with his star guard, knowing that this PBA D-League stint can help Nonoy be ready as he is seen as one of the cornerstones for the future for UST under coach Aldin Ayo.
"Magfi-fit siya sa sistema. In two to three years, makikita na namin yung development ng bata. Baka sa second year niya, nandoon na yan kasi by that time, Marvin Lee and Renzo Subido will graduate na at it will be his time siguro," the soft-spoken mentor said.
"This early, ipapasok na namin siya para maintindihan niya yung higher level of basketball. Mag-oobserve siya dun, maiintindihan na niya yun. Pagdating ng UAAP season, ready to play na siya."
Nonoy is bracing himself for the battle with bigger and smarter foes in the seniors' ranks as the Growling Tigers test their mettle in the developmental league in preparation for UAAP Season 82 later this year.
He is eager prove he can make it among the elite in the amateur ranks.
"Alam ko na kaya ko naman doon. Sanay ako sa kalye na kung sino ang kalaban. Kaya this D-League, lalong gagandahan ko pa yung performance ko," said the La Carlota, Negros Occidental native. "Ready naman ako doon. Kung anong ibigay sa akin, yun ang gagawin ko."