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Monday, April 21, 2014
BY THE time you read this, SJ (short for Samjosef) Belangel is practicing with the Ateneo Blue Eaglets. Days from now the son of Sammy Dave, the only Nike 3-on-3 champion coach from the Visayas, will join the National Training Camp with the best Junior NBA finalists at PICC Forum Tent and at SM Mall of Asia.
Samjosef started with little-known Eliakim Learning School and played first in the 10 Under tournament organized by Basketball Unified Sports Group headed by Bing Soyao. Dad and coach Sammy credited Ms Luzviminda Balabag for his boy and other ELS kids' early exposure to sports.
With a rare talent like SJ's, it was easy for Junjun Tolosa and Joemar Dadivas to bring him to the Integrated School of University of St. La Salle, where his dad made history by winning the 1996 3-on-3 national final and a second place finish behind champion Busan in the Nike Asian Championships in Seoul, South Korea.
For some unknown (or obvious) reasons, SJ found himself playing as a freshman for St. Joseph School in Iloilo City courtesy of Bong Garcia. He returned and played last year with his uncle-coach at Bacolod Tay Tung High School through the auspices of Ben Lo, Roger and Boy Montalbo.
Together with his former teammates, SJ and the Thunderbolts won the 2013 Batang Pinoy 3-on-3 representing Bacolod early this year.
The feat brought Samjosef and his uncle Tata along with 16 other delegates to the US on the State Department's Sports Visitors Program in late March. He met NBA Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and attended workshops in Florida and Washington.
Upon his return, SJ tried out in the Manila regional elimination of the Junior NBA joining nearly 800 participants, advanced to the top 50 and together with St. John's Institute's Kyle Matthew Chua survived the cut for the best 16 players.
If he continues his lucky streak, SJ might just find himself in the 10 best male performers who will join a US NBA tour through Alaska's S.T.A.R. Jr. NBA program. If not, Ateneo de Manila University would just be glad with him donning the Blue Eaglets uniform in the Freego Summer League or aspire for a slot in the 15 Under national squad.
Unlike other grade school and high school standouts who went to Manila and went home either a failure, homesick, culture shocked, frustrated and unable to withstand pressure, SJ is quite in a safe mode with his family to oversee his studies and playmaking.
SJ may have not given the Thunderbolts a championship trophy during his short stint with BTTHS but his departure might just be a wake-up call for the rest of the Thunderbolts to prove that they can pocket a title without their star.
For the younger Belangel, the choice of his dad to accept ADMU's offer as early as this stage, is for his welfare and future as a student and a player until he finishes college. Now it is final, and all the speculations have come to a stop as to where SJ is going.
If there is bitterness from the schools which have in one way or another handled SJ, or from persons who have touched the life of this kid going to the big league, the Belangel family leaves their apologies.
Likewise, it is the family's hope that if their decision to bring SJ to Ateneo does not conform with other parties’ ideas, only time can tell whether it is good or not. This is once in a lifetime offer and opportunity is wiser to accept than to wait for some uncertain proposal.
The bottom line is that for better or for worse, SJ's family has the last say – not unscrupulous managers, coaches, talent scouts and middlemen who sell players like they are their own properties.
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on April 21, 2014.