Hobbled by an ankle injury for the entirety of UAAP Season 84, the 5-foot-10 speedster has slowly worked his way back to form.
But with partner-in-crime RJ Abarrientos gone and now in Korea, the Isabela native understood that his leadership for the Tamaraws shouldn't just be felt off the court but also on it.
L-Jay Gonzales embraces main-man role
Fortunately, the old Gonzales came to play on Thursday's Filoil EcoOil Preseason Cup semifinals, anchoring FEU to a huge 71-67 overtime victory over famed La Salle.
The 23-year-old guard flirted with a triple-double with his 13 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists as he helped the Tamaraws rally from an early 10-point deficit and pull off the gutsy overtime win and arrange a Finals date against National University.
"Alam na natin yung quality ni L-Jay," said coach Olsen Racela, obviously relieved to finally get a glimpse of the Gonzales that the public has come to know in the leadup to the upcoming UAAP Season 85.
"His strengths, his weaknesses, alam ko na yun cause hawak ko na siya since he came from high school. So for us, we try as much as possible to put him in the right position to give him the opportunity to excel. Ngayon, pinapakita na niya talaga kung anong klaseng player siya."
No longer taking a step back from his peers like Xyrus Torres, Royce Alforque, and Bryan Sajonia, Gonzales is just determined to repay the faith that Racela and the other coaches have given him as he aims to truly be the leader that FEU badly needs.
"Yung tiwala lang talaga ng coaches sa akin at sa buong team. Binibigyan nila ako ng opportunity na maipakita yung kaya ko so ginagawa ko yun para suklian yung tiwala nila," he said.
And Gonzales isn't waiting for the UAAP to make it happen, with the Filoil tourney being the perfect platform for him to show just that.
If it ends up with a championship in tow, well L-Jay as FEU's leader might just be a-ok.