RYAN Buenafe was one of the best players to ever play at Ateneo, yet he was also one of the most controversial.
Buenafe was a vital cog in four champion teams in the Blue Eagles' UAAP five-peat run from 2008 to 2012, but constant weight problems and accusations of laziness left a lot of basketball fans regretting that he never realized his full potential.
On Friday, in an edition of Mikee Reyes' WRU Now? vlog, the former Blue Eagles forward looked back on his time at Katipunan, which he admitted was marked by missed practices, binge drinking the day before big games, and a lack of enthusiasm to play in games against the collegiate league's minnows.
"Kapag maraming bakanteng upuan, pahinga tayo dyan," a smiling Buenafe told host Reyes, although he was quick to aknowledge that "mali yon."
The 6-2 forward, recruited by Ateneo after a stellar high school career at San Sebastian, said he was fetched by former Blue Eagles team manager Paolo Trillo from his dorm and brought to his classrooms in his first month with the team.
Buenafe swore he never flunked during his time at Ateneo, but admitted a lack of appetite for practice. He said there was a time when he didn't show his face for Ateneo's offseason games during an entire second semester.
"Sabi kasi nila, mag-focus ako sa pag-aaral. So sabi ko after ng season, sa susunod na taon na tayo magkita-kita," he laughed. "See you next year na yon. Kaya kapag nagpakita ako, ang sama ng tingin sa akin. parang nakakita ng kaaway."
There was another instance where he missed the practices of coach Norman Black for a month.
"Meron yata yon, di ako nag-ensayo ng isang buwan. Pagbalik ko, pinag-suicide [drill] ako ni coach Norman ng limang beses," Buenafe said.
The Pasay-born player said he had to come up with all sorts of excuses for missed practices, most of which Black didn't buy.
"Katulad ni coach Norman, namuti na yung buhok. Ang sabi sa akin ni coach Norman, sa dami ng dinadahilan ko sa kanya, limang lolo at limang lola ko na raw ang namatay. Naipon na ng naipon ba," he said.
"Seryoso kasi sa practice yon. Di ka pwedeng mag-absent ng practice ng walang dahilan. Kung trip mo lang na di mag-ensayo, kailangan may dahilan ka. Eh [sabi ko] patay ang lolo ko, paano tatanggi si coach Norman.
"Mga patay na talaga, binuhay ko lang. Binuhay ko [tapos] pinatay ko rin sa kwento."
Buenafe said games were an altogether different story. He swore never missing any UAAP games - "Televised 'yon eh, yari tayo dun. Eh ensayo di napapanood" - but admitted once arriving late for one finals game early in his Ateneo career because he had a drinking binge with friends the night before.
The story was corroborated by former teammate Eric Salamat, who narrated another incident during Ateneo's summer camp in Las Vegas when Buenafe didn't show up one morning for the team's departure for training, only for teammates to see him drunk in his hotel room.
Yet it was also Salamat who marvelled at Buenafe's ability to perform well during games despite missing or tanking practices.
"Iba talaga," Salamat, a teammate of Buenafe since their time with the Staglets, said.
Asked by Reyes about the 2011 season which he sat out, Buenafe belied it was because of weight or academic issues. Instead he said he didn't see eye-to-eye with some members of the team.
"Meron ako nakaaway, dun sa loob pa. Hindi naman away, di ko lang kasundo siguro," he said. "Minsan sinasadya ko ng mawala, kasi may di na ko kasundo. Ginagalit ko talaga."
Buenafe came back the following season to be part of the Ateneo five-peat before declaring for the PBA Rookie Draft, where he was taken No. 8 overall by Alaska and signed to a one-year contract.
His time in the PBA was brief - one season with Alaska and three under Black at Meralco - and he admitted pro league games never really got his juices flowing. At least not as much as college games.
Now 31, Buenafe isn't done with basketball. He last saw action with the Zamboanga Valientes in the MPBL and said he is set to play for one team in the inaugural season of the VisMin Super Cup.
"Relax-relax lang, kung saan tayo masaya, doon tayo," said Buenafe, joking that "dati sinasabi mabilis ako sa fastbreak, ngayon sa breakfast na lang."
Buenafe said he isn't perturbed by what people say about his unrealized potential and all the rumors that continue to swirl around him.
"Kahit anong sabihin sa akin, kahit murahin ako sa laro, tatawanan ko lang yan," he said.
Watch the full interview HERE.