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In Your Face!

What A Difference A Year (or Two or Three) Makes, Part 1

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There is an old saying, "age doesn't matter", which means that age does not necessarily have to factor in to the philosophical and practical matters of life. We of course do not necessarily mean here things such as age restrictions on marriage and family relations, voting and suffrage, etc.

With that out of the way, we go back to my favorite interlocutor, and source of many a good meal on him, Mr Libog.

In our most recent lunch together with Snorgy at one of our favorite Chinese restaurants, his topic for the day was none other than age and talent, particularly in high school basketball.

"Hindi ba naglaro ka ng PAYA Juniors nung high school ka? Umabot ka ba ng UAAP?" he asked.

I shook my head and answered in the negative.

"Bakit, hindi ka ba nag-try out?" he asked further.

I explained that I tried twice and failed twice, in my junior and senior years in high school. I said that if in my senior year I still wasn't good enough to make the UAAP team then I'll simply never be good enough, ever. Heck, a few guys from lower batches were just having their way with me during the tryouts, and I was even playing Ginebra-level dirty just to have a chance, and it still didn't work.

"Ayun pala. Pero nag-try out ka ba ever nung freshman and sophomore years mo?"

I said I never bothered back then, simply because I knew there was just no way I was going to beat out the older, tougher players already on the team or trying out. As an example, I said Richie Ticzon and Rico Santiago were both just a year ahead of me, and those two had to wait their turn to make the UAAP team. What bloody chance did I have?

"That's what I'm trying to point out with this whole (Encho) Serrano (of Adamson high school) mess that was recently dug up," he said. "Ang mahirap sa Juniors kapag pineke ang edad ng isang player hindi mo malaman tuloy kung magaling ba talaga siya or magulang lang?"

"Isipin mo na lang, kunwari 16 years old ka, kalaban mo 19, kahit na sabihin mo pang mas matangkad 'yung 16-year old, sa gulang nung 19-year old at the very least mahihirapan sumabay 'yung mas bata. Ilan beses ko na kayang nakita na 6-2 na payat na 16-year old kinakaya ng isang 5-10 na 19-year old sa high school."

Just as a background, ABS CBN came out with an online article last week that stated that some questions had arisen regarding the true age of their star player, 5-9 guard Encho Serrano. Serrano had led his Adamson Baby Falcons to a pristine 7-0 sweep of the first round of eliminations in UAAP Season 79's junior division, and he emerged as the leading MVP contender in the high school ranks.

Serrano may be a totally new entity to most UAAP junior division fans, but Mr Libog and I already saw him in action about a year and a half ago in both the Buddha Care tournament and the Fil Oil summer league. Serrano at that time was still with the Mapua Red Robins of the NCAA, although he never got to see action in the NCAA tournament proper.

Serrano, Rob Junsay, and Mike Enriquez formed a heck of a backcourt for the Red Robins and even beat Jolo Mendoza, Gian mamuyac, and the rest of the mighty Ateneo Blue Eaglets in the Buddha Care semifinals. Mr Libog and I liked him but didn't exactly love him the way we did with the likes of Mark Cruz, Roi Sumang, and Jio Jalalon. The reason? Serrano is like a smaller Bong Alvarez, likes to jump over everything, doesn't really show much in terms of talent or skill, just has a stud body.

Then he dropped off the radar and I didn't even hear his name in the NCAA Juniors.

Then he pops up in Adamson. It never even occurred to me to look him up when the news articles for the UAAP Juniors was all about how strong Adamson had suddenly become behind this newcomer named Serrano. Mr Libog texted me that it was the same Serrano we saw with Mapua.

And now we have this little controversy as to Serrano's eligibility, centering on his true age.

"Alam mo bang tatlong taon tumigil ng school si Serrano bago napunta sa Mapua?" he said. "So that's three missing years, tapos siempre nag-residency pa siya for Adamson, so one more year 'yan. Assume natin he stopped schooling at age 13, plus three years na out of school siya, plus one year residency, so he should be 18 now at least. Ina-assume pa natin na 13 lang siya nung tumigil siya ha. Malay natin baka naman 14 or 15 na siya nung tumigil siya, tapos naka-residency na din siya ng one year sa Mapua. Ako ang estimate ko he's probably legit 19 by now."

If he is 19 then he can still play in the UAAP Juniors, because the rule, as far as I know, is that you can play up to age 19.

"Assume na nga natin na sa edad pwede pa naman siya maglaro, ang actual tanong ko is magaling ba talaga si Serrano or matanda lang for a high school player? Tapos ilan kaya silang medyo may edad na for Juniors diyan sa Adamson? Kasi nakita mo naman katawan nung mga core players ni Goldwyn (Monteverde, the Adamson Juniors head coach), iba talaga, katawan mama na. Kahit si Lebron tignan mo pictures niya as a senior in high school and as a 19-year old rookie with Cleveland, kapag 19 ka na iba talaga nagiging build ng katawan mo, lalo pa kung athlete ka."

I think it sort of comes with the territory that an athlete's body would mature the older he gets, starting from the semi-serious regimen of high school basketball. I mean, look no further than Thirdy Ravena. Look at his body this Season 79, at age 20, compare it to his body as a 17-year old high school senior from three years back. The same can be said for Aaron Black.

"Ganun na nga sinasabi ko, iba pa din na 16 or 17 kalaban 19. Tignan mo na lang 'yung Justin Baltazar nung last year niya sa NU, napaka-dominant na niya, pero turns out 19 na pala siya that time, sagad na din sa edad, bukod pa sa laki niya. Kinaya nga siya nung Nieto twins nung last championship ng Eaglets 'di ba? Eh ilaban mo na kaya ngayon si Mike Nieto versus Baltazar, ibang player na siya eh."

"Dun nakakaloko ang may edad na high school player, 19 years old ba naman ilaban mo sa 16 or 17, sometimes baka 15 lang ang kalaban, siempre magmumukhang super player si 19 years old."

"Wala naman akong pakialam one way or another kung ano edad ni Serrano, mas issue dito how good he really is as a player." he emphasized by slapping the back of his hand onto his other palm. "Magaling ba talaga si Serrano or matanda lang siya? Ang suspecha ko kasi matanda lang siya. Joseph Yeo parang ganyan din maglaro nung siya star ng Xavier, pero may talent, may skill si Yeo, itong Serrano lumakas ang katawan, pero puro lundag at takbo pa din, wala pa din tayo nakitang pull-up jumper, step-back jumper, jumper from a crossover, medyo mataas pa nga dribble niya for a guard, and there is no way he is 5-11, baka at most 5-9 lang siya."

So is this much ado over nothing for Mr Libog?

"Hindi naman, siempre importante din malaman natin real age niya, may factor din 'yun kasi kung magsi-Seniors siya. KUNG maka-Seniors pa siya given this case."

(To be continued)

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