NU coach reveals 'warrior' Justine Baltazar played through injury during title season
Justine Baltazar is mobbed by teammates after winning Finals MVP honors. Dante Peralta

NATIONAL University center Justine Baltazar proved his heart is bigger than his frame in UAAP Season 78 as he played through an injury in his final but triumphant year for the Bullpups.

NU coach Jeff Napa bared Baltazar suffered an injury in his left foot prior to the season, and it was so severe that he initially had plans to rest the 6-foot-7 big man from Pampanga in some games to let the injured foot heal.

“Walang nakakaalam na may injury siya. Still, pinakita niya ‘yung heart niya,” said NU coach Jeff Napa.

Still, Baltazar managed to play and excel in all the games this season for NU, finishing second to La Salle-Zobel’s Aljun Melecio in the MVP race and leading the Bullpups to a 14-0 sweep of the elimination round.

[See NU Bullpups are UAAP champs]

Baltazar went on to lead his team to the title, lifting the Bullpups in the finals over the Junior Archers en route to the Season 78 crown and the Finals MVP trophy.

“Ginawa ko lang po ‘yung pinapagawa ni coach,” Baltazar said. “Last year ko na po, next year, hindi na ako makakalaro.”

Napa is impressed with how Baltazar played through the pain in his foot, calling him a ‘warrior’ for his efforts. The NU coach pointed out that it was even Baltazar who insisted on playing through his injury.

“Linihim muna namin ‘yung injury niya. Hangga’t maaari, kami-kami lang sa team ang nakakaalam. At least, walang makaka-recognize,” Napa said.

“Warrior ‘yung bata. Ayaw magpatalo. Happy ako sa bata na despite may injury siya, nilalaro niya. Makulit. Alam mo naman mga bata, pinipilit. Inaalalayan namin siya. Happy ako sa kanya dahil sa nag-deliver siya,” he added.

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