There are a million thoughts swirling around in my head right now, but this is the one worth telling

By Bong Quinto as told to Klyde Manansala | Photo by Tristan Tamayo

To the whole Letran community,

Allow me to say this one more time. We were hungry. We were locked in. We were ready.

It wasn’t the ending that we wanted to see, but some things are supposed to be just the way they are—and that’s completely okay. The goal was to earn a ticket to the Final Four and bag the crown. It’s that simple: Bring back the glory in the walls of Intramuros.

We wanted more. I wanted more.

I can still hear the sound of the buzzer resounding in my head. As I looked up to the big screen, the figures loomed onto my eyes, 109-85, indicating the end of my job in Letran.

It hurt me. For days, I’m lost for words. I’ve experienced defeats before, but this one just hit me differently. It was one of those losses in which you don’t feel like going out, talking about, or even putting something in your stomach. You know that line from this very famous song? “Though I tried, I can’t find the words to say goodbye.” That was how I felt because I knew it was going to be the last time.

“Eight years later and here I am, still in awe. Still that very same 16-year-old kid who entered the walls of Intramuros to study and work. Only this time, I’m a 24-year-old man heading for a different path, a new job elsewhere

There are other pains and aches I don’t need to go into. I figured enough is enough, and at some point I have to get up and embrace my next chapter. After all, I couldn’t be more grateful with the opportunity that you had given to me.

I’ll never forget the first time I set foot inside the Letran gym. The echo of the bouncing basketballs reverberated from every corner of the facility with unfamiliar faces surrounding me. Back then, I was a skinny baller, a mere dreamer. Eight years ago, I got the job.

This is gonna sound like a familiar tune, but I’ve always been a student of the game. I grew up in a PBA household as I had the countless opportunities to storm the dugouts of my favorites, Alaska Aces and Talk ’N Text Tropang Texters. All thanks to the Ball Brothers—no, it’s not Lonzo, LiAngelo, and LaMelo that I’m pertaining to—I’m talking about Deodato and Bong Lozano: The ball boys of those PBA teams who made me fall in love with the game. The Ball Brothers gave me an early basketball education. I got the job because they duly endorsed me, they believed in me.

A 16-year-old Bong Quinto charges to the basket in Season 88 of NCAA Juniors Division. Photo/Jan Dizon, NCAA

I spent my first two years working at the lower department. Team B, that’s how they call it. My goal that time was to, of course, get a promotion and sign a regularization so I can represent my school in the oldest collegiate basketball league to the best of my abilities.

I can’t exactly recall how it happened, but it just did. I got the call. “Hey kid, you’re part of Team A now.” Surreal.

I made it to the NCAA. The next six years was a hell of a rollercoaster ride. A ride that I savored every second of. During my Juniors Division, I bagged the Rookie of the Year, MVP, and a Mythical Five inclusion. And it’s gotten so much sweeter come my senior year: One title. MVP candidate. Three triple-doubles in my last season. One Mythical Five selection, and most significantly, a couple of friends who became my brothers.

“I’m done contemplating about the painful ending of my last NCAA season. I’m leaving but that doesn’t mean I’m not taking the Arriba spirit with me as I carry on in my new journey

Eight years later and here I am, still in awe. Still that very same 16-year-old kid who entered the walls of Intramuros to study and work. Only this time, I’m a 24-year-old man heading for a different path, a new job elsewhere. PBA is the goal. And I wouldn’t have  had the credentials had it not been for you, my coaches, teammates, family, and friends.

I’m done contemplating about the painful ending of my last NCAA season. I’m leaving but that doesn’t mean I’m not taking the Arriba spirit with me as I carry on in my new journey. It’s already a part of me—I will keep moving forward with that fiery spirit and words that gave me the biggest motivation throughout my whole college career.

Quinto holds the NCAA trophy after Letran captured its 17th NCAA basketball title by taking Game 3 of their finals series against archrivals San Beda Red Lions. Photo/Ryan Miguel Rona, The LANCE

To coach Jeff Napa, I have nothing but love and respect for you. Thank you for believing in me and to our team when others didn’t. Thank you for trusting me and for imparting the right skills of a great leader on and off the court. Though we didn’t get the chance to win a title together, I’m always going to be grateful to have been mentored by you. Go get that chip for me next year.

Same gratitude goes to my past coaches: Monch Gavieres, Caloy Garcia, and Aldin Ayo, all of whom played an important role and left a lasting mark in my journey.

“We didn’t have the firmest lineup or the deepest bench, but trust among each other made us stronger than everybody else.

To Jerrick Balanza, my brother. I don’t normally say this but I guess you know how much I am proud of you. You know, just having to endure all that struggle in the middle of the season and still getting back on your feet, you’re simply the bravest man I know. You taught me that once you’ve hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up. We’re fighters. Come back stronger next year.

To my teammates, let them doubt. Before the season started, a lot of people looked at us as the least likely team to make huge waves in Season 94, but still, we made the semifinals because we didn’t care about what they thought. And that’s how it’s always going to be. Screw what they think.

The 2018 Letran Knights. Photo/Gelay Davocol

Next season isn’t going to be about the previous season or the upcoming ones. It’s all about just that season. Regardless of the scoreboard, of how high or low your shooting percentage is, or how much you’ve out-rebounded them, you all are going to be winners because of the effort and hard work you’re going to put in. Nobody can take that away from you. It will all pay off.

To my kuyas: Rey Nambatac, Kevin Racal, and Mark Cruz, a lot of my perspective both in life and basketball have changed since you passed the torch to me. If there’s one lesson that I’ll never forget from all of you, it’s the trust that you have to give to your teammates—more like brothers. Team chemistry is the backbone of the team. We didn’t have the firmest lineup or the deepest bench, but trust among each other made us stronger than everybody else. I’ll see the three of you in the pro league—let’s bang bodies and break each other’s ankles, just like before.

To my family, you matter the most in the grand scheme of things. This is all for you.

Lastly, to Letran, I don’t know how to put in a nutshell how much you mean to me, but all I can say is that, I’m glad I’ve met you—and I’ll carry that with pride.

To God be the Glory.

Quinto out.