A chat with UST’s comeback spark, Aljon Mariano

Aljon Mariano is making up for lost time this season. (Bob Guerrero)

Basketball is an unpredictable game, and last July 19 we saw plenty of evidence of that.

Who would have thought that the four-time defending champs, the Ateneo Blue Eagles, could fall to the UST Growling tigers after leading by nineteen? No one would have guessed the Tigers would come rallying to win the game with the final score of 71-70, gaining the team a 1-1 record. Of course, this would not have been possible without a solid team effort,  especially from star shooters Jeric Teng, Jeric Fortuna, and Karim Abdul.  But the story of the day was the performance of  Aljon Mariano, who led UST with 21 points, 13 in the third quarter.

I was fortunate to have been given an opportunity to chat with Mariano, and I also tackled the topic of his sitting out last season with an injury:

After sitting out for the entire UAAP Season 74, what thoughts were running through your mind while as this season progresses?

"Noong una, sobrang down ako that time kasi sobrang hinintay ko yung last season para makalaro talaga ako. Habang nanonood naman ako, nandoon yung feeling palagi na gusto kong tulungan yung team, pero nakita ko naman na maganda yung mga laro ng UST last season, nakaabot nga sila sa final four. So after nun, na-realize ko na dapat mag-focus nalang ako sa preparation ko sa pagbalik ko."

What was your feeling going into the game against the Ateneo Blue Eagles?

"At first, sobrang down kami ng 19 points. Sinabi sa amin ni coach na dapat ilabas na namin yung pride namin, yung heart namin mag-laro. Lalo na naka set na sa amin na baka ito na talaga yung chance na manalo against Ateneo.  In the end, nakarespond naman yung lahat ng team mates ko, doon lang siguro gumanda yung laro namin sa second half at nakabawi. Masarap naman yung feeling na manalo sa Ateneo kasi 2007 pa yung last win namin against Ateneo, then finally nag end na yung streak na yun."

Did the team  change its strategy in the second half, which led to the comeback?

"Wala namang nagbago sa laro  namin. Naging mas strong and consistent lang kami sa second half. Pangit lang naging defense namin nung una."

Was there anyone in particular during the game you felt challenged to face?

"Siguro para sa akin, si Nico Salva. Nakaka-challenge para sa akin kapag kami yung nagbabantayan. Nakikita ko na kasi siya dati sa High School, sobrang galing niya. So nung game, nachachallenge ako pag siya yung kaharap ko."

What was the impact to you, as well as the entire team, from that win against Ateneo?

"Tumaas yung morale ng team namin syempre. Kasi yung tinalo namin, 4peat champions tapos 1 point lang yung panalo namin. Pero sabi naman ni Coach [Pido] na hindi dapat kami mag-relax lang dahil dun. Dapat talaga maging consistent and ganun kasipag for every game sa buong season."

What are the changes you want to see from the last game applied for the upcoming games?

"Wala naman. Maging consistent lang siguro and wag talaga maging kuntento sa panalo namin. Kailangan talaga ilabas lang namin yung pride and heart namin sa game."

It seems the Tigers are very much prepared for the rest of the season as they even came from behind last Saturday to steal a win against the NU Bulldogs. As they put so much heart and passion into all their games, it's safe to say that every game played by the Growling Tigers will definitely be worth watching.

Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.

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