When Alain “AJ” Madrigal first laced up his sneaks and dribbled a basketball in his home province of Marinduque, playing for flag and country was probably quite far from his mind. Years later, however, on a humid summer Wednesday evening, he’s in the Meralco Gym, training hard and wearing the Batang Gilas colors weeks away from plunging into the 2016 Southeast Asian Basketball Association U18 Championship in Medan, Indonesia.
It has been an interesting story for someone like Madrigal, who has never really hogged the headlines despite being one of the main cogs for the La Salle Green Hills Junior Blazers this past season in the NCAA.
“I actually started playing in Marinduque,” narrates Madrigal, who is still only 17 years old and just finished high school.
“Around Grade 7, I moved to Lourdes School Mandaluyong, where I became teammates with Gian Mamuyac,” he adds. “And then in first year high school, I got recruited by LSGH.”
Exchanging the light blue hues of LSM for the famed green and white of LSGH meant Madrigal would enjoy much more exposure as well as the chance to be teammates with another member of the Batang Gilas pool, Ricci Rivero, the star playmaker who already competed abroad for FIBA 3×3 and was the consistent leading NCAA Juniors’ MVP candidate this past season.
Rivero, however, isn’t in the Meralco Gym on this particular night. He also isn’t among the final twelve Batang Gilas players recently released to the public.
But Madrigal is.
The Marinduque product is out to prove he not only belongs at this level, but that he can be an important piece — a standout perimeter player.
“They can expect shooting,” he says. “I just have to keep on working on my speed and shooting because that’s how I can really help the team.”
That’s natural, of course, since Batang Gilas will be undersized once they reach the FIBA Asia U18 Championship in Iran later this year. Madrigal is aware of this, and he is resolved to be a difference-maker for coach Mike Oliver’s squad.
“I expect much bigger and stronger guards in the international game,” Madrigal says.
At 6’2, though, Madrigal has great size at this level for a wingman. This, combined with his outside shooting, should make him a potential match-up nightmare for opposing countries.
In the 2016 SEABA U18 tourney, only the top three teams will earn tickets to the FIBA Asia joust, and though Batang Gilas can be expected to be the overwhelmingly heavy favorite, Madrigal and his teammates don’t plan to take anything for granted.
“Our ultimate goal is to win the SEABA championship and qualify for FIBA Asia,” he declares. “We have a different playing style, and we will do what it takes to win.”
If his words eventually become reality, then, indeed, Madrigal will have made Marinduque, not to mention the rest of the country, proud. – By Enzo Flojo
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