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    The itch that sent Mac Belo's star to the stratosphere

    Jul 17, 2020
    PHOTO: Jerome Ascaño

    THERE'S an old Filipino saying that when one's hand itches, chances are he's bound to get his hands on some serious money.

    For one, Mac Belo had that itch on his hand six years back, so much so that he just didn't shake it off, he begged for his palms to get a touch of the leather.

    "Nung time na yun, nangangati yung kamay ko talaga nung nasa corner ako," he said in a special episode of Spin Exclusive as he looked back on his iconic corner three in Far Eastern University's Final Four tussle against La Salle in UAAP Season 77 back in 2014.

    With the game tied at 64, it was Belo who received the inbound pass from Mike Tolomia in the final 24.4 seconds of the winner-take-all Game Two before handing the rock back to his trusted point guard.

    Following the instructions of Tamaraws coach Nash Racela to clear the way for Tolomia, the Midsayap, North Cotabato gunner made his way to the right corner. But Belo's hand all the more itched for the ball, so much so that he asked for the ball with 12 seconds left in the clock.

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    "Ang instruction ni coach Nash talaga kay Mike, ubusin ang oras," he recounted as he intently watched every Tolomia dribble as the clock continued to trickle.

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    Tolomia made his move with four seconds left, driving to the lane and attracting the defense of Julian Sargent and Jason Perkins -- the man guarding Belo. That's the opening the soft-spoken forward needed as he got hold of the ball and fearlessly threw what would be the winner.

    But as much as his hand itched, Belo would be fine if anyone else got that last shot.

    It's just that maybe, it was destiny for him to take the gutsy attempt.

    "Nung moment na yun, ang mindset ko lang talaga is to win. Di ko naman inexpect na sa akin mapupunta yung last shot na yun kasi kahit sino sa team na yun, kung sino ang nasa sitwasyon na yun, pag binigay ang bola, ititira na lang," he said. "Siguro nagkataon na nandoon ako kaya ako ang nakatira ng last shot."

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    "Yung time na na-open talaga ako, sa isip ko wala nang iba kundi ititira ko talaga."

    It was such a pressure-packed position to be in.

    FEU came to the Final Four as the two-seed but bowed to La Salle, 65-60, in Game One to squander its twice-to-beat advantage.

    Yes, if the shot missed, the game would've still went to overtime.

    Yet for some, it's the biggest opportunity the Tamaraws had to get back to the championship picture for the first time in three years and show that it's no longer the perennial title contender that couldn't.

    How fitting was it that the game -- nee, the season's biggest shot came from the one who said the least.

    And as the itch in Belo's hand finally got quenched, the ball indeed proved to be money.

    Three-pointer is good. FEU wins, 67-64.

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      Looking back, Racela no longer recalls if there's a specific play he drew up, but to him, it's a testament of the culture he has fostered to these Tamaraws since assuming the post in 2012.

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      "Magandang pakinggan na everything happened according to how I drew it sa board namin, pero di ko maalala kung yun nga ang instruction namin. Ang pinakaimportante lang is they're able to execute," he said.

      "The only instruction we gave our players is use the clock and take the absolute last shot. Yun naman ang ginawa nila, whether it was Mike who took the shot or Mac, sa weakside sila Roger (Pogoy). We gave them concepts during that time, we wanted to space the floor, and we really wanted Mike to be the attack person and everybody else will space out. I'm sure anybody would be ready to take that winning shot."

      Racela may attribute it to the team, but there's no question that the clutch play was the one which sent Belo to prominence as his already shining star soon reached the stratosphere.

      "Kahit hanggang ngayon pag may nakakakita sa akin, yun pa rin ang unang binabanggit. Masasabi ko na doon talaga nabuhay ang career ko, sa shot na yun," he said.

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      "For me, unforgettable. Sobrang hindi ma-explain yung experience na yun. Sobrang saya. Minsan nga naiisip ko pa. Pag malungkot ako, naiisip ko siya, bumabalik yung sigla."

      It wasn't long before Belo was picked first in the special Gilas draft of 2016 and cemented himself as the cornerstone for Blackwater.

      That iconic shot has also lasted through time, with video edits and memes spurring from that specific play over the years.

      "Nakakatuwa lang. Everytime I see edits na ganoon, it means naaalala nila, napaguusapan nila, and nagre-reminisce ang tao of that moment of Mac nung 2014," said Racela. "Yun lang ang maganda, si Mac ang nakatanggap ng bola since nangangati yung kamay niya and he delivered. And again, the rest is history."

      FEU soon headed to the Finals but unfortunately lost to National University in three grueling games.

      It was good for Belo to have such a memorable moment like that, but with the pains of the Tamaraws' bridesmaid finish still lingering and the 6-foot-4 forward still having one year left in his collegiate career, he wasn't ready to leave Morayta without a redemption.

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      "That's part of the story. This is something we always talk about with our teams, na you cannot win everything, same way you cannot lose everything," said Racela. "Nanalo kami noon, pero kasamaang palad sa Finals. It makes you stronger as people and as a team and right away, you want to just move forward after ng mga ganoong pagkatalo."

      And that, our friends, is a story for another day.

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      PHOTO: Jerome Ascaño
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