FORMER UAAP superstar BJ Manalo can’t help but recall his own story of frustration and triumph in light of the shocking death of Jose Rizal University high school stalwart CJ Servillon.
Manalo was among the most celebrated players of his time, winner of championships both with Ateneo in high school and La Salle in college when an injury that prematurely ended his career ended up saving his life.
The combo guard had the world at his feet, a college star and prospective top PBA pick with matching good looks that paved the way for a brief showbiz career as one of the hosts of the noontime show 'Magandang Tanghali, Bayan.'
Then his world came crashing down when he suffered a horrific injury to his right knee in 2003 that damaged his ACL, MCL and fractured his meniscus.
“I devoted all my life sa basketball then naudlot,” Manalo recalled.
“That time hirap na hirap akong tanggapin ang lahat. ACL, MCL tapos meniscus fracture ang naging injury ko,” he admitted. “Lumaban pa ako nun by undergoing rehab almost every day sa Moro Lorenzo (Sports Center) for eight months.”
Healthy enough to resume his career, Manalo saw action in the defunct Philippine Basketball League (PBL) and was later selected No. 13th overall by Purefoods in the 2005 PBA Rookie Draft.
Manalo, however, knew everything had changed.
“God really has other plans for me. Masakit sa akin tanggapin pero after the injury, nag-iba ang laro ko. Nag-iba ang galaw ko. Hindi ko matanggap nun kung bakit,” he said.
Offers from other pro teams still came, but the former La Salle gunner decided to give up his basketball career and follow what he believed was the path laid down for him by God by becoming a missionary with wife Dianne.
“That time, maraming nagtanong at naghanap sa akin, why I suddenly turned my back on basketball at a time when a lot of people are expecting me to make it big in the PBA,” he said.
“It was only in 2010 when all of God’s plans became clear to me.”
That was then that he learned that he has a life-threatening genetic illness - pulmonary embolism, a disorder where blood clots can develop in the most vital organs of the body like the heart and lungs.
“I realized na may plano pala talaga Siya sa akin. He wanted to save me so I can help other people in other ways,” said Manalo.
“Dahil sa injury ko nung 2003, lumabas 'yung sakit ko na pwedeng ikamatay ko if I continued playing. Nag-develop kasi ako ng deep vein thrombosis na nag-result ng pulmonary embolism,” he said, showing to Spin.ph his leg wrapped in stockings to stimulate good blood circulation.
Now given a clean bill of health, Manalo admitted he has his regrets but is looking forward to achieving success as coach and consultant, which he believes is his divine calling.
“I am glad that I am okay na. My illness kasi was the same that struck Serena Williams, Anderson Varejao, and Chris Bosh. Fortunately for them, naituloy nila careers nila,” he said.
“As for me, itutuloy ko na ang talagang career ko and that is to shape the careers of young players out there who are in pursuit of their respective dreams. And I am happy for this new challenge,” Manalo added.
He has also given up his job as team manager of GlobalPort in the PBA to take on a new career path, now working full time at his More Than Winning (MTW) Sports Consultancy - one of the support services behind the phenomenal rise of the NU Pep Squad as UAAP three-peat cheerdance champion.
MTW is also into basketball clinics.
“Passion ko talaga after my basketball career is to train young players and coaches, at the same time inculcating values and teachings about life and showing concern for players. Kaya nga 'More Than Winning,'” said Manalo, now the head coach of the FEU-NRMF basketball team of businessman-sportsman Nino Reyes.
On June 14, Manalo will lead a culminating event dubbed as ‘MTW Sports All Star Sunday,’ where he will pit all of the teams under his wings in a fellowship and skills challenge activities at the FEU-NRMF gym in Fairview Quezon city.