Let’s call a spade a spade and say it’s entirely possible for a mediocre UAAP or NCAA player to get more media play than a standout from a league that doesn’t get TV coverage. Jonas Tibayan knows this all too well.
The Chiang Kai Shek Blue Dragons star player has represented the Philippines in the FIBA Under-16 and Under-18 categories, and was the only high school player to make the Gilas Cadets roster for the 2016 SEABA Cup. And yet many casual fans might never have heard his name.
Putting in the work
“Hindi naman kilala ‘yung mga Chinese leagues. Chinese community lang din mga magkakakilala,” he admits. “[Pero] ‘yung sistema namin, kahit hindi kami UAAP o NCAA, pareho lang ang tinuturo sa amin. Minsan nga, practice namin, thrice a day kapag summer or Christmas break.”
On those days, Jonas would be hitting the weights from 6:00 to 8:00 a.m, at team practice until 11:00 a.m., then returning for another round from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.
While many athletes his age build a celebrity persona, Jonas is more ambivalent towards the possibility of fame. “Kung may media mang manood, sige lang. Pinapakita naman namin ‘yung best namin sa loob eh. So kung ano man makita nila, bonus na lang kung anong sabihin [ng media],” he says.
Jonas isn’t looking for validation. He takes pride in his team’s achievements in the PSSBC (Philippine Secondary Schools Basketball Championship) and their five-peat in the FCAAF (Filipino Chinese Amateur Athletic Federation). He rattles off names of other Chiang Kai Shek alums that have had successful collegiate careers in the UAAP and NCAA: NU’s Med Salim and JV Gallego, UE’s Fran Yu, ADMU’s Justin Chua.
The workaround, he says, is thinking long-term: work hard and trust that the right people will notice. Unsurprisingly, Jonas idolizes Kobe Bryant’s “Mamba Mentality” and describes how he is fueled by the challenge.
“Ang mindset mo, kapag mas galit mga tao, mas gagalingan mo pa,” says the 18-year-old. “Ipapakita mo sa kanila na tuloy ka lang sa laro.”
The youngest Cadet
Jonas doesn’t come from a basketball family. His father, a retired soldier, heads security at a casino; when he was younger, Jonas dreamed of joining the Philippine Navy. In fact, Jonas only began playing basketball in earnest at the age of 11.
And so he remembers feeling overwhelmed after being chosen as the lone high school player on the Gilas Cadets’ SEABA bid, alongside pros like Troy Rosario and college stars Mac Belo, Kevin Ferrer and Jio Jalalon.
“Syempre big pressure para sa akin kasi ako pinakabata, pero sabi sa akin ni Coach, gawin mo lang role mo,” he recalls. “Inexpect ko rin talaga na hindi ako magagamit kasi nga ‘yung mga kalaban puro matatanda. Sabi ko sa sarili ko, kapag pinasok ka, kung ano man role mo, gawin mo, hustle ka,”
“Kumuha ako ng experience sa game na ‘yun, tapos pagbalik ko sa Manila, tina-try ko pa i-develop,” Jonas says. ‘Yung kumpiyansa ko, lumaki kasi mas magagaling ‘yung mga kalaban namin. Kaya pag-uwi ko medyo naging madali na lang sa akin.”
‘Hindi ako naghahangad na maging MVP’
Jonas is tireless on both ends of the court, has an excellent handle on the ball, and faces opponents with the confidence of an older player. However, Jonas names his work ethic as his best attribute.
“Sipag ang pinakamahalaga,” he says, thanking Chiang Kai Shek coach Goldwin Monteverde for instilling this value in him. Basketball, he says, helped him mature in his everyday life as well. “Sa sports ko lang din natutunan ‘yung sipag. Dati kasi ako, relax-relax, ganun lang. Kaya itong mga natutunan ko, i-a-apply ko rin sa labas.”
Wherever he decides to play at the collegiate level, Jonas stresses he will continue to defer to his coach’s system and demands. “Ngayon big man ako sa high school, pero pag college baka maging wing man ako,” he says.
As he approaches the next stage in his career, Jonas is poised to get the attention his talent deserves. Profiles like this one will cease to contain the word “underrated.” Jonas, however, prefers to focus on the grind and insists that won’t change.
“Hindi ako naghahangad na MVP o anuman,” he states. “Kung ano man kailangan ng team ko ‘yun ang gagawin ko. Kung ano man sabihin ng coach ko, ‘yun ang gagawin ko.”
In a way, his last name couldn’t be more perfect. Tibayan: to make strong, to stay strong. “Gusto ko sabihin nila, ‘Ah si Jonas, palaban yan,” he shares. “‘Hindi sumusuko.’”