Photo by Courtside PhilippinesTHE YOUNG383
From rock bottom to champion again: The legend of Jerrick Balanza
by Niel Victor Masoy, November 20, 2019 3:14pm
Jerrick Balanza hit rock bottom about 14 months ago.
In the latter part of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) season 94 Men’s basketball tournament, Balanza was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Knowing this, the Colegio de San Juan de Letran (CSJL) guard admitted the wallowing arms of frustration was already creeping all over him then.
“Talagang lugmok na lugmok na ako nung time na yun eh,” recalled Balanza.
And who wouldn’t be? After all, Balanza missed the home stretch of the eliminations and the Knights’ Final Four campaign in the tournament as he needed to undergo a life-threatening brain surgery.
Go under the knife, Balanza did.
“Buhay pa ba ako?”
Those were the first words that Balanza spoke after his successful brain surgery back in September of last year.
As he was recovering from his operation, Balanza shared all he did was to believe that such a debacle happened to him for God has a greater plan.
And Balanza - who was part of the Letran squad that won it all in 2015 - claimed that God’s plan for him and the rest of the Knights was for them to win the NCAA season 95 title.
“Isa lang ang masasabi ko: Sobrang bait ni God. Wala akong ginawa kundi maniwala sa Kanya at maging positibo lang,” uttered the 23-year-old.
“Simula pa lang, na-envision ko na pagbalik ko magcha-champion kami dahil yun ang pinakamagandang plano ni God sa akin at sa team," added the 6-foot-1 guard.
There came Letran making the Final Four and surviving two knockout games in the stepladder Semifinals of this season to set up a Finals clash against its age-old rival San Beda University (SBU).
The Knights drew first blood in Game One of the best-of-three championship series as they came away with a 65-64 win which also stained the Red Lions’ record this year.
San Beda, though, exacted revenge in Game Two, tying the series at one apiece with a thrilling 79-76 triumph.
Despite the crushing defeat to the Red Lions in Game Two, Balanza’s faith that the Knights will win it all never wavered.
“Pinapasarap lang ‘to ni Lord,” Balanza was overheard saying in Letran’s huddle after Game Two.
And for one last time, the Knights team captain claimed that Letran will win the championship.
“Tinatanaw kong positibo ‘to (pagkatalo) kasi pinapasarap lang ‘to ni Lord. Sa amin pa din ito, sa amin pa rin ang Game Three yun ang sinabi ko sa team ko,” the graduating Balanza remarked.
“Masaya ako na ito yung last game ko kasi confident ako na sa amin yun (championship). Sa amin ‘to talaga.”
But of course, claiming that you will achieve something is not enough. You have to work for it.
Work for it, Balanza did in Game Three.
The cager from San Miguel, Manila poured in a game-high 27 points, including big shots down the stretch that kept the Knights afloat when the Red Lions were roaring back in the fourth quarter.
He also added seven rebounds, three assists, and came through with the win-preserving block on Evan Nelle as Letran escaped with a pulsating 81-79 triumph to win the championship before the boisterous 19,876 fans at the Mall of Asia Arena on Tuesday, November 19.
When Balanza needed financial assistance to push through his brain surgery, the Letran community was there to give him some.
And now, he’s thanking the Letranites for their help with the title he and the rest of his teammates just painstakingly earned.
"Sobrang sarap ng pakiramdam na napasalamatan ko ang Letran community at lahat ng naniwala sa amin sa pamamagitan nitong championship," said Balanza.
"Ito yung ginawang way ni God para mapasalamatan ko sila."
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