EXPECTING to ride the pine throughout the first round as he battles to get fit, Embons Bonleon now looks set to take on a more active role as University of Sto. Tomas tries to close the gap on the leaders in the UAAP Season 81 basketball tournament.
Bonleon had played for only a total of seven minutes in two appearances in six games, until Wednesday when he was surprisingly tapped for the game against University of the Philippines.
Getting eight minutes, Bonleon delivered a season-best seven points and a block as the Tigers stunned the Maroons.
"Malaking tulong yun kasi kahit paano, makakatulong ako sa offense," he said. "Tingin ko naman mas magiging better ako hanggang matapos yung liga. Noong una, may doubts ako, pero kaya lang these past two games, grabe ang pasahan namin at plays ni coach Aldin. Sa ganitong nilalaro namin, mas magiging dangerous yung team namin dahil maganda ang ball movement at kumpyansa lahat."
It was a huge boost in confidence for Bonleon, whose injuries caused him to balloon to 96.5 kilograms.
"Sobrang frustrated na ako kahit noong summer pa. Lagi ako nai-injure. Nagstart lang ako mag-practice sa team nung September na eh. Yung sinabi ni coach na three days before UAAP, doon lang nabuo yung team, ako yung last doon," he shared.
"Kahit jogging o weights, hindi ko magawa," the fourth-year forward said.
But knowing the new culture being instilled by new coach Aldin Ayo, Bonleon had no other choice but to stay the course, trimming his weight down, as hard as it was, to his current weight at 89 kilograms.
"Naging patient lang ako," he said. "Kahit may laro sila, nagpapakundisyon ako."
Ayo expected Bonleon to be in shape in time for the second round, but the fiery mentor pulled the trigger a game ahead, inserting him in UST's game against UP.
He did not disappoint.
"Bigla na lang akong pinasok. Nagtaka nga ako eh. Kinausap naman ako ni coach na sa second round niya ako gagamitin basta magpapayat lang ako, pero in-advance niya at end of first round pala niya ako gagamitin," he said.