How skinny kid from CDO turned into one of PBA's rising stars

Sep 6, 2022
Rey Nambatac family
Reluctantly defying his mom's wish, Rey Nambatac now has a better life for his family.
PHOTO: reynambatac on Instagram | Jerome Ascaño

THEY say mothers know best.

But when it comes to pursuing your dreams, sometimes it’s better to tune out the rest.

That’s what Rey Nambatac did and it got him from being a short, skinny kid from Cagayan de Oro City to now standing tall as one of the PBA’s rising stars.

Rey Nambatac: from skinny CDO kid to ROS star

Recounting his humble beginnings on SPIN Zoom In, the Rain or Shine star and former Letran standout shared that he got his first break via a local coach and fellow Knight in Rey Dangcal. Their fathers knew each other as city government workers.

Nambatac’s dad, Rey Sr., asked if Dangcal could take a look at the younger Rey to see if he has the potential to play in the Big City. Nambatac wasted no time flaunting what he can do in a local league game, prompting Dangcal to recommend him to the Letran juniors team for a tryout.

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Nambatac’s mother, Susan, though, was cold on the idea of one of his three kids traveling to uncharted territory in Manila.

“Yung nanay ko nun, ayaw talaga niya na pumunta ako dito,” Nambatac bared. “Kasi mag-isa lang ako, probinsyano, walang alam dito eh. First time dito sa Maynila eh, so hindi ko alam yung pamumuhay dito. Syempre hindi natin maiwasan mag-alala yung parents natin.”

But Nambatac trusted his gut.

“So talagang sumugal ako. Sabi ko ‘nun. ‘Bahala na. Susubukan ko,’” he said. “Ang opportunity kasi, minsan lang yan dumating sa buhay natin eh, so pag hindi mo yan ginrab, hindi natin alam kalian ulit dadating yung opportunity na binigay sa atin.”

“That time, 50-50 chance pa kung makukuha ako or hindi,” he added. “Pero sa kagustuhan ko na matupad yung pangarap ko na makapaglaro sa Manila and at the same time makatungtong ng PBA, talagang inisip ko that time na bahala na, magbabakasakali ako.”

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“Kasi para sa akin, wala namang masama kung susubukan ko eh. And paano ko malalaman kung may chance o wala kung hindi ko susubukan?”

Traveling to Manila for the first time – alone – can already get you cold feet. What more when you see then Squires stars Mark Cruz, Glenn Khobutin, and Jarelan “Oda” Tampus, among others, dominating practices?

“Na-star struck ako kay Mark Cruz, kila Khobuntin. Dun pa lang, medyo nawalan na ako ng confidence sa sarili ko na kaya ko ba ‘to?” Nambatac admitted. “Nung time na yun, maliit pa lang ako then payat…Kaya ko ba silang bantayan, sumabay sa skills nila? Kasi nung napanood ko silang mag-practice, grabe, talagang ahead na ahead sa skills ko. Kumbaga ang layo ko sa kanila.”

“Nung pumasok ako sa Squires, wala akong shooting, wala akong drive,” Nambatac added. “Ang ano ko lang noon is hustle lang talaga eh. Pero sila nung time na yun, grabe, almost perfect na eh.”

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Rey Nambatac Letran

But the 5-foot-11 Nambatac bet on himself and earned his spot on the Squires team of then coach Monch Gavieres.

“Syempre hindi nangibabaw yung takot ko,” Nambatac said. “Ang mas nangibabaw sa’kin yung eagerness ko na talagang gusto ko matupad yung pangarap ko. Sa awa ng Diyos, nakuha ako sa Squires.”

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“Actually ang mindset ko noon hindi naman talaga ma-line up sa NCAA,” he was quick to add. “Kasi tulad ng sabi ko, maliit lang ako noon, so mga kabantayan ko mas malalaki sa akin. Pero nabigyan ako ng chance. Kasi pangarap ko lang noon makapagtapos ng pag-aaral, makatulong sa magulang ko na mabawasan yung kanilang expense. Pero dahil sobrang bait ni Lord, na-bless niya ako.”

With Khobuntin's move to National University and Tampus' transfer to La Salle leaving the Squires with just 10 men on the roster, Nambatac pounced on the extra exposure as he still spearheaded his team to as high as No. 2 in the standings.

Nambatac’s leadership as a freshman was rewarded with the 2011 NCAA Juniors Rookie of the Year award before he emerged as the Juniors MVP the following year.

Staying at Letran in college bore fruit as Nambatac helped the Knights end a decade-long title drought at the expense of powerhouse San Beda in 2015.

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Conviction can indeed can get you places. Complacency, on the other hand, can get you stuck.

After all, Mark Cruz played three years in the PBA, but is out of the league now, while Tampus could only make it to the D-League. Among Nambatac's contemporaries, only Khobuntin and Bong Quinto are still in the league.

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    As for Nambatac? The 28-year-old combo guard became the seventh overall pick in the 2017 PBA Draft and is now one of the E-Painters’ go-to guys.

    “Walang imposible basta’t magtiwala lang sa sarili na kaya,” Nambatac said. “Dahil lahat naman ng gusto natin hindi yan madali. Hindi agad-agad yan ibibigay, so kailangan mo talaga yan paghirapan. Kailangan mo dyan hirap, pagod, pawis para maabot mo yung gusto mo sa buhay.”

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    Reluctantly defying his mom's wish, Rey Nambatac now has a better life for his family.
    PHOTO: reynambatac on Instagram | Jerome Ascaño
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