WITH former coach Jeff Napa watching from ringside, Justine Baltazar calmly sank a baseline jumper with 28 seconds to go to put La Salle on top for good against his former school National University.
That shot - easily the biggest of Baltazar's career - put the Green Archers on top for good on the way to an 80-76 win over the Bulldogs at the Mall of Asia Arena, their first in UAAP Season 81.
A former NU Bullpup, Baltazar said playing against his high school coach and former teammate John Lloyd Clemente didn’t serve as extra motivation. Instead, Baltazar treated this game as a tribute to Napa, who celebrated his 37th birthday last Wednesday.
“Wala naman. Siguro gusto ko lang ipakita kay coach na nag-improve ako. Birthday rin niya ngayon,” said Baltazar who finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds in the win.
After spending most of the time on the bench in his first two years at La Salle while playing behind Ben Mbala and Abu Tratter, Baltazar is making every moment count as he steps into the staring role.
“Lagi lang akong nire-remind ng mga coaches na maghintay lang ako dadating din yung time ko,” said Baltazar. “Kaya eto na, kailangan ko na magtrabaho.”
His head coach, Louie Gonzalez, had so much faith in Baltazar that he designed that inbound play to set up the gangling 6-7 slotman for the shot.
“Siguro sa practice, mga 100 times na namin itinakbo yun. Alam ko naman na Justine here, sa start pa lang ng season, sinabi ko naman sa inyo na he’ll play a role in this one,” said Gonzalez.
“Yung last play na yun, sinabi ko sa kanya na pag nakuha mo tira mo na. Good thing sumama lahat kay Aljun (Melecio) yung tao,” he added.
Baltazar didn’t have any second thoughts.
“Kumpyansa lang. Yung ginawa ko kanina hindi na ako makatulog ngayon sa sobrang saya ko. yung two seconds na yun sa akin talaga yun, dinesign talaga para sa akin yun. Hiniling ko lang kay Lord na pumasok yun.”