Jeff Napa has been with NU long enough that he has experienced the lowest of lows and the highest of highs inside a challenging journey spanning close to 20 years.
Then as a promising collegiate cager, Napa endured a tough 5-year ride with the Bulldogs but still emerged as one of the bright spots, even leading what was considered as the league’s perennial doormat team to its first appearance in the Final Four era back in 2001.
Napa tried hard to fulfill his ultimate dream of playing in the pro ranks but his efforts failed to pan out.
Instead of sulking on what-could-have-beens, Napa stuck to the positives and he was led to a situation that he never expected to reach, more so to achieve success that he never had before.
“Sobrang saya kasi hindi ko maisip na mapupunta ako sa ganitong posisyon,” said Napa as he started to recall a not-so-distant past of his basketball life. “Dati, naglalaro lang talaga ako. Tapos binalik ako ng eskwelahan ko at sinuklian ko naman sila dahil doon ako nakilala.”
Then considered as one of the up-and-coming collegiate gunners, Napa torched Adamson with a personal-best of 43 points, spiked by 10 triples that put him in the league’s history books by tying the most number of 3-point tries made in a single game, sharing the feat with former UE legend and PBA great Allan Caidic.
While he failed to lead the Bulldogs back to the Promised Land, Napa used that as his prime motivation when he assumed the coaching role for the Bullpups in 2010 when the SM Group of Companies, led by mall magnate Hans Sy, started to make drastic upgrades on the school’s athletics program.
“‘Yung na-experience kong ups-and-downs with NU, siguro ‘yun ang naging motivation ko para iangat itong high school program,” said Napa. “Pero sa lahat ng sports talaga ang vision ni Sir Hans Sy. Tama rin kami pareho, in one page lang kami kaya naging successful kami.”
After leading the Bullpups to their 3rd UAAP juniors title, Napa, as expected, has earned the attention of other schools, notably reigning NCAA seniors cage titlist Letran which is looking for a replacement to Aldin Ayo who is now serving UAAP powerhouse La Salle.
Whether he will accept the Knights’ job or not, his name will be forever associated with NU, according to Napa. “Kung ano man ang magiging desisyon ko, nakatatak na rin ang NU sa pangalan ko. Hindi lang ata Napa ang apelyido ko, NU na rin,” he amused, drawing laughter from sports scribes.
Napa added he will forever cherish all the lessons he has gained and learned with the Bullpups as well as the teachings he got from NU men’s cage coach Eric Altamirano and his fellow coaches in NU.
“Madami akong natutunan sa mga coaches ko at masaya ako kasi nabigyan ako ng magandang pagkakataon para i-share sa mga bata ang mga natutunan ko. Credit ko na rin ‘yung coaching staff ko pati na rin sa mga dumaan sa aking mga players. Within five years, naintindihan nila ‘yung pinakagusto namin,” said Napa, adding he is hoping for the best for graduating Bullpups, led by Finals MVP and top center Justine Baltazar.
“Masaya ako kung saan man sila mapupunta. Proud ako na product sila ng Bullpups at alam kong mag-e-excel sila. Andito lang ako para sumuporta sa kanila. I am very proud kung sino man ang kumuha sa kanila. One thing’s for sure, winner sila. Hindi naman sila (suitors) magsisisi kung sino ang kuhanin nila.” — By Jerome Lagunzad