Rookie havin’ a ball

UP rookie Chris Ball defending against Adamson's Eric Camson. (NPPA Images)

With the UP Fighting Maroons down by only two points in the last 18 seconds of the game against the Adamson Falcons, everyone was hoping for a game-winning shot from beyond the arc or an easy lay-up that would send the game into overtime, at the very least. To everyone's dismay, Alvin Padilla's long-range jumper bounced off the rim. Once again, the boys went back to the dugout with their heads down. But at the same time, supporters managed to yet again find a silver lining in the Maroons' effort. This time, it was the breakout game of Chris Ball. The rookie chipped in 13 points, 8 of them in the second quarter, 5 rebounds, 3 of which were offensive and 2 blocks.

"Sure, I can do that. I'm free at 9 a.m. Where would you prefer to meet?," the reply, which came only minutes after I texted asking for an interview, read. I knew the boys were training at 6 a.m. that day, so I was thankful Chris decided to accommodate me right away.

I had bumped into him a few times when I would attend the team's practices last season, but I had no idea he would be one of the nicest, most humble basketball players I would come across.

The youngest of three boys of an American dad and a Filipino mom, the 22-year old Chris Ball had been playing the game since 5th grade. He continued to play for Canyon High School and Santiago Canyon Community College in California, but mostly on and off, just to stay in shape. "My friend's uncle is an alumnus of UP, and he told me that they (the basketball team) would be coming to Vegas. The coaches saw me when they came to California from Vegas, and that's when they pursued me," he says.

"It's definitely a risk," he speaks of coming to the Philippines. "It's something that many people would question later, whether or not I should have done it."

In a basketball-crazy country like the Philippines, there is always a lot of hype surrounding imports — the notion being, a team wouldn't just take anyone in. For Chris, this pressure translates to opportunity. But on a team like UP, which hasn't exactly been landing in the top ranks of the UAAP, Chris also can't help but feel like the team depends on him. "There's something bigger happening, and you have to be able to carry that weight, and that's not easy," he says. "I make rookie mistakes, but I learn from them, " he continues, citing how his roommate, fellow import Alinko Mbah gives him tips on how to handle the players of other teams.

While most rookies would point out several things which they don't enjoy about being the so-called "babies" of the team (such as having to go through initiations and cleaning up after everyone after practice), Chris sees the entire rookie experience in a positive light. "My opponents don't know my past, so they have nothing to play off," he speaks of one of the advantages of being one. "The best part is still having an opportunity to get a lot of playing time, which some rookies don't have. I'm fortunate to have that," he adds.

Other than the adjustments he makes to his game, Chris has also had to learn to live on his own. "My life is different from my teammates. They have their parents here. I pay bills, I prepare my own food, and when I wake up, I don't just throw my clothes and have a maid pick up after me," he laughs (not in reference to one of his teammates, I hope). "I'm also not used to walking all around UP, sweating," he adds.

Graduating from college is definitely on the top of Chris' to-do list, but not being one to look too forward, Chris just hopes that things will get better for the Fighting Maroons. For him, this entails applying pressure on their opponents at all times and avoiding defensive and mental lapses. "We're always the ones chasing. We have to be the ones leading," he says.

I asked Chris where he was headed after the interview. "I have to go home, and pay the bills," he laughed. I wished him luck and walked away knowing that it isn't every day you come across an athlete as down-to-earth and easy to talk to as him.

It isn't the easiest thing to be a rookie far from home, so I hope that aside from always finding his shot, Chris will find his place and happiness in the Philippines.

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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