SJ Belangel Is an Absolute Killer
He looked harmless, but don't be fooled: SJ Belangel is an absolute killer.
The 21-year-old, in fact, isn't scared of seizing the moment if the opportunity presents itself - whether it be with Ateneo, as seen from the last UAAP Finals, or in his debut with the Gilas Pilipinas men's team.
"Alam naman ito ni coach Tab [Baldwin] eh. 'Di talaga ako nawawalan ng kumpyansa sa sarili ko," he said of his coach, both with the Blue Eagles and with this youth-laden national team.
("Coach knows this, that I never lose faith in myself.")
That's why when the last-second play Baldwin drew primarily for Carl Tamayo and Ange Kouame broke down, Belangel did not hesitate in asking for the ball from inbounder Dwight Ramos.
"Kahit ano namang mangyari, it all boils down on making it and 'yung confidence ko sa sarili ko," said Belangel, who was only thrust into the starting guard role after Matt Nieto was left out due to an injury.
"Noong time na yon, nakita ko na option talaga na pupunta ako doon eh. Nakita ko na walang nangyari, nagkamali si Ange [Kouame], tapos iniisip ko na lang na we need a basket."
("Whatever happens, it all boils down to making it and keeping my faith in myself. At that time, I already saw that that was what's going to happen. I saw that nothing was happening for us, Ange made a mistake, and I thought we needed a basket.")
Belangel caught the ball on the right corner, faked off Lee Seoung Hyun, and threw up an off-balanced desperation trey as time slowly trickled down.
The shot banked in. And Belangel insists it wasn't luck. It was no accident, too.
He called bank.
"Off-the-fake, ginagawa ko lagi iyon. Favorite move ko 'yun. Tinarget ko na sa board din kasi wala na rin akong angle. Mahirap yung angle na straight eh, so nakita ko lang yung board at tinarget ko yung box," he said.
"Sinadya ko talaga na boarding. For me na pumasok, sobrang saya ko," the Ateneo guard said, smiling from ear-to-ear.
("Off-the-fake. I always do that. That's my favorite move. I aimed for the board because I ran out of angles. It was difficult to shoot from a straight angle, so I just looked at the board and aimed for the box.")
Everything from there, as they say, was history.
Belangel's trey capped a memorable Gilas debut that led to the 81-78 come-from-behind win over Korea on Wednesday which booked the Philippines a spot in the 2021 Fiba Asia Cup in August.
Those kinds of performances, however, should already be expected from Belangel who always plays bigger than his 5-foot-10 frame as seen from his 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists in the pulsating victory.
Though he's the smallest in the current youthful Gilas pool, he has a bulldog mentality, unfazed of the gravity of the situation.
It should explain his calm demeanor when he got the nod to be the starting point guard for the team, as well as Gilas' finisher when the game was tied with 2.8 seconds left.
"As a point guard, I should be the role model. Mahirap naman ipakita kung as a point guard, ikaw pa ang unang nagba-back down. As the extension of the coach, ikaw dapat ang nagli-lead by example.
"Iniisip ko lang na di ako magpapatalo kahit anong mangyari. If they give me a hit at di tinawagan ng ref, di ako babawi. Titignan ko na lang din kung kailan ako makaganun din since ibang level na ang competition dito, sobrang physical.
"That's one thing I learned kanina, yung physicality, doon naging mindset ko na pwede rin naman at binibigay ng ref, 'di lang talaga ako magpapatalo."
("It's a shame if you would back down considering you're the point guard. As the extension of the coach [on the court], you should lead by example. I said to myself that I will give it my all no matter what happens. If they give me a hit and the referre overlooks it, I won't hit back. I would just wait when it's safe for me to do that too since the competition was so physical. That's one thing I learned, the physicality was where my mindset was focused, especially since the ref allowed it. I was never going to accept defeat no matter the cost.")
Belangel certainly didn't back down, and he certainly proved it as he willed Gilas back from a 17-point hole and stage a huge second-half surge to catch up and set up the tight finish against the Koreans.
For now, though, Belangel is relishing his moment of glory, fully aware that his improbable shot will now be etched in the history books as one of the greatest moments for Gilas - and he did that in his debut, no less.
"Sobrang saya ko, syempre, since nanalo tayo. Di ko nga alam na history uli tayo eh. Nasa isip ko lang makabawi tayo sa Korea since dati natalo kami [sa Jones Cup], so ang mindset ko na gusto ko lang makabawi sa ganitong game," he said.
"And knowing that I hit that last shot, doon na makikilala yung SJ Belangel ng ibang tao. For me, sobrang happy ko. No matter what happens, para ito sa fans ng ating bayan."
("I'm very happy, of course, we won. I didn't even realize that we made history again. It was on my mind that we had to win against Korea since they beat us before [in the Jones Cup], that's what I was focused on. And knowing that I hit that last shot, that's how other people would know who SJ Belangel is. I'm very happy. No matter what happens, this is for the fans from our country.")
This story originally appeared on Spin.ph. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.