His 5 points might have been far from the usual numbers he posted in high school, but Jolo Mendoza’s impact in his first game in the UAAP seniors division was unmistakeable.
The sniper out of Ateneo High School ignited the Blue Eagles’ dreary shooting, fanning a better second-half effort performance for the Katipunan side after a slow start.
Facing UST’s zone defense, Ateneo couldn’t break free in the first 2 quarters as they missed all 10 of their attempts from beyond the arc.
But Mendoza’s entry in the latter of half of the third period changed things up and the Eagles found their rhythm en route to the 73-69 win.
“To be honest, nagulat ako nung una,” said the Batang Gilas standout of the atmosphere at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“Although all my life nanonood naman talaga ako ng UAAP since time pa lang nila (JC) Intal. Once I stepped on the court medyo nagulat pa rin ako,” he added, talking about the thousands in attendance. “I wasn’t expecting it to be that intense and that loud.”
For a rookie like him, the jitters were normal, especially when one goes up against UST, a team that prides itself for having one of the loudest sixth men in the UAAP.
Playing with a depleted lineup, however, crumbling under pressure was not an option.
On playing with 8 other former teammates in the high school ranks, he shares: “I tried to calm myself down. I tried to focus talaga on like the team. I just looked at my teammates and saw how calm they were. It helped me a lot.”
“I just wanted to stay ready. I know any time coach could pull me out of the bench and put me in the game. That’s what he’s been telling me ever since summer,” he added. “Ready lang ako palagi and thank God nakapag-execute ako. Nakatulong ako sa team kahit konti.”
Having successfully introduced his brand of play and becoming a vital cog in Ateneo’s first win, Mendoza’s confidence is naturally on a high.
But unlike young talents who have come—and left untimely—before him, the young blood vows to patiently wait for any opportunity not to shine but to help out his teammates in any way.
“Wanting more minutes is being selfish. I’m just gonna do what I can whenever coach fields me in. I’m just gonna do what I can to help the team whether it’s making shots from the 3-point arc or just having energy off the bench and helping boost my teammates,” he said.
Shouldering the scoring load left by Kiefer Ravena, Aaron Black connected on 10 of his 15 attempts to finish with an impressive 23-point output with the younger Ravena, Thirdy, following suit with 17 points.
And while the team has all the right to be on Cloud 9 after downing last season’s runner-up, the newbie believes it’s best to shake off the win and focus on the next task at hand.
“It’s a confidence-booster. Totoo naman ‘yun na pag nakuha mo ‘yung first game magandang feeling,” said Mendoza. “Pero for us, we’re just gonna move on and focus on the next one. We can’t get hung up on this win. We have to focus on what we can improve and do what we can to prepare for NU.” — By Mac Dionisio