A PROVINCE that prides itself at this time of year for its giant lanterns expects another giant of a different variety to make a splash in the future.
Meet Jeremaiah Joy Sandalo Pangalangan, a 15-year-old kid from Pampanga who already stands 6-foot-7 and this early is being groomed to be a basketball star in the mold of the province's other cage jewels.
Spin.ph recently caught a glimpse of the prodigious kid under the care of Pampanga vice governor Dennis Pineda, who incidentally discovered and nurtured the careers of current PBA stars like former MVP Arwind Santos and Calvin Abueva and young guns Ian Sangalang and Ronald Pascual.
Pangalangan’s dad, Abel, told Spin.ph that he is happy with how Pineda has been developing his son.
“Hard training talaga siya dito. Puro drills at saka basketball,” said the elder Pangalangan inside the Pampanga Sports Complex in the capital town of San Fernando where his son and other promising players in Pineda's stable are quartered and made to undergo regular training.
“Dito ko dinala 'yung bata kasi sila ang nakikita ko na kayang magpa-ayos sa bata. Sana maging para siyang Arwind Santos o Calvin Abueva,” said Pangalangan's dad.
According to Pineda's camp, Pangalanan, who they hope to grow as tall as seven feet, if not taller, is already committed to go to La Salle for college.
To develop Pangalangan's skills, the youngster from Angeles City undergoes spartan training under the supervision of former San Sebastian Stags coach Allan Trinidad, who pays particular attention to the kid's footwork and dribbling skills to set him apart from other tall homegrown cagers.
“Tine-train namin siya dito ng todo. Maaga pa lang isasalang na namin sa iba’t ibang training 'yan. Pero mas pinagtutuunan namin ng pansin, ma-develop ang footwork niya saka dribble,” said Trinidad.
“Kasi ala ring kwenta yang laki nyan kung mag-aabang lang ng bola. Kung lalampa-lampa,” he added. “Dribbling talaga ang emphasis namin, kasi kung di marunong ng dribble ang player kahit 6-7 o 6-8 yan, wala ring mangyayari. Hindi rin makaka-atake.”
So tall is Pangalangan that former PBA star center EJ Feihl was astonished to talk to a 15 year old at eye level.
“Grabe ka. Ang laki mo. Tapos kinse ka pa lang? Wow ha,” said Feihl in a meeting with Pangalangan that Spin.ph arranged.
“Malaki tong batang to. Baka mas maging mas matangkad pa sa akin to,” said the first and only seven-foot Pinoy player to have played in the PBA.
Trinidad bared that Pineda has designed a training regimen for Pangalangan and a handful of other Pampanga-born players under his care.
“Parang nasa PMA sila rito. In the morning, pi-pick-upin sila, papasok sa eskwelahan. Pagbalik ng 4 o’ clock, ensayo. Kakain, matutulog. Tapos weights program. Tignan mo mga katawan nila, may muscle na,” added Trinidad.
Trinidad bared that a lot of UAAP and NCAA teams have already been asking about Pangalangan.
“Marami nang kumukuha dyan. Kaso hindi pa namin pwede bitawan. Kasi hindi pa masyadong sanay sa depensa na rugged. Pero ina-adjust na namin. Malaki ang future niyan,” he said.
Among those in the stable is forward Darryl Pascual, who is set to debut for the La Salle Green Archers in the UAAP.
“Kita mo yung Pascual. Maganda rin ang pinakita nung Fil-Oil (preseason Cup) pati yung Larry Muyang. Naka-lineup na rin. Abangan niyo yung mga yun, ngayong UAAP,” he said.
Pangalangan is set to make his debut in the coming Palaro Pambansa in Davao Del Norte, where he will spearhead the bid of Central Luzon to snatch the basketball crown from Calabarzon.
“Naka-lineup na siya sa amin. Nag-champion kasi ang Team Delta of Pampanga sa CLRAA (Central Luzon Regional Athletic Association) against Zambales, si Jay (Pangalanga) sa City of San Fernando naglaro. Pero captured player siya, sinama siya sa pool ng Pampanga sa Palaro. Dun makikita niyo siya,” he said.
Pineda, for his part, said he wants Pangalangan to be developed into an aggressive and taller version of Abueva.
“Pinapa-train ko talaga siya. Gusto ko siyang maging parang, sa ngayon ha, 6-7 na Calvin Abueva. Kaya naman kasi magaling magdala ng bola eh,” said Pineda.
And like Trinidad, Pineda believes that Pangalangan still needs to improve his athleticism and his overall skills.
“May shooting 'yan. May dribble. Pero mabagal pa, madami pang baby fat. Hintayin ninyo. In one year, malaki na ang pagbabago niyan,” he said.
Asked if he is looking at Pangalangan to be the first homegrown player to make it to the NBA, Pineda said he is hopeful.
“Nananalangin ako. Kakayanin naman ng mga Pilipino 'yan, kung bibigyan ng focus ang mga bata. Tignan muna natin. Kailangan talaga itaas ang lebel ng basketball,” said Pineda, who is also taking care of some 20 players, most of whom have atleast 6-5 in height who can dribble and shoot.