The hero in a basketball game is not necessarily the one who scores the most

By Nicole Ganglani | Photo courtesy of UAAP

The player that rescues the team in the dying minutes of the fourth quarter is often touted as the hero of a basketball game. They’re considered the superstar, or rather, the face of the team. But what if a team has a number of these so called superstars trying to find their role all together? Who deserves to get the ball at the end of the game when the team is down by two with less than 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter?

For the UP Fighting Maroons, it was no other than Juan Gomez de Liaño—saving the team from an upset against the ferocious De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Archers.

But before Gomez de Liaño converted the game-winning shot in yesterday’s thrilling main event, he had barely made a statement for himself this season. It’s not hard to tell why though since his team is currently in the process of aligning their superstar talent and finding ways to build their on-court chemistry.

Take it from the Maroons’ current leading scorer Kobe Paras, who said that one of the biggest challenges for UP this season is figuring out a team dynamic that can get everyone going in the game. In UP’s first six games this season, they’ve only lost one (against the UST Growling Tigers) but can’t seem to win their games with a comfortable margin. While it makes sense to say that the reason for this is because almost all teams in the tournament are equally competitive, it’s also worth considering the fact that UP has yet to unleash their best game yet.

But you can’t blame Coach Bo Persarol’s squad just yet. Forming a championship-caliber team takes tons of patience, practice, and of course, chemistry. To put this whole team together in less than a year is taxing. It requires a lot of sacrifice, especially from the role players who have been part of the system in the past few years. And Juan Gomez de Liaño is no exception to this.


A true superstar

Since the start of Season 82, Gomez de Liaño is only averaging roughly five points and two assists per game. The 19-year-old bright star of UP is currently shooting just 23 percent from the field compared to the 40 percent he averaged last season. To add to this, he also suffered a number of injuries during the pre-season, specifically from back spasms and a hyperextended left knee.

“I made the extra sacrifice to play the last three minutes despite all the injuries I have going through right now, says Gomez de Liaño

But even if this has undoubtedly affected his performance this season, Gomez de Liaño believes that he doesn’t have to perform at the highest level in order for UP to prosper. This is coming from a former UAAP Juniors MVP, Seniors Rookie of the Year, and a part of the Mythical Five. Throughout the season, Gomez de Liaño adjusted to the arrival of Paras and Ricci Rivero, and even made way for the improvement of his brother Javi. He’s also had to give way for starting point guard Jun Manzo, and of course big man Bright Akhuetie—two players arguably as important as Gomez de Liaño.

Despite the injuries and his cold start this season, you can never really underestimate what Gomez de Liaño is capable of doing on the court. As soon as he stole Aljun Melecio’s weak pass with 12 seconds left in the game, you knew the ball was in good hands. So then there he was, elevating for the game winning three-pointer that brought every single UP fan out of their seats.

Nothing but net. A shot that had everyone not wearing the green and white heave a sigh of relief. A shot that proved why Gomez de Liaño is indeed built for moments like this: the shot that secured UP’s fifth win for the season.

“I’m really glad I made the right decision. I made the extra sacrifice to play the last three minutes despite all the injuries I have going through right now. I’ve faced so many injuries in the past five months. I’ve just been focusing on my rehab. So I’m really thankful to my team even though I’ve been struggling they still have the trust in me. I’ve really been working hard in the offseason. I feel like I’m good for these kinds of moments,” says Gomez de Liaño.

Juan Gomez De Liaño is a prime example of what a true hero is on the basketball court. Someone willing to sacrifice everything for his team—even if that means taking on less playing time or weathering injuries just to bring his team back to the finals, the biggest stage of UAAP basketball. UP, embrace your very own unsung hero—he’s one in a million.

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