Not everybody is given a second chance – be it in life or basketball – and ex-pro Leo De Vera is cherishing every single second that the MPBL has blessed him with.
After a promising one-year collegiate career with the San Sebastian Stags, the California-born cager was picked by the Mahindra Enforcers in the third round of the 2015 PBA Draft, and was expected to be a key contributor for the up-and-coming franchise. But things didn’t pan the out the way he envisioned, as De Vera was buried deep in the Mahindra bench for almost two years and eventually found himself out of the PBA.
Admittedly, basketball was the last thing on his mind at the time, up until the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League came knocking on his door.
“Yung trasition medyo mahirap sa akin dahil after ng (PBA) naging practice player ako sa Star Hotshots. Then nag-stop na ako mag basketball and nagtrabaho na ako and nag-sabay din ng business,” the 29-year-old, who now plays for the Bacoor City Strikers, told FOX Sports PH in an exclusive online interview.
Now on its second season, the MPBL – headed by PBA legend Kenneth Duremdes and founded by Senator Manny Pacquiao – has become the ultimate proving grounds for ex-pros like Leo, to once again be able to strut their stuff and prove their worth on the floor. The league has also given a home to the unsung heroes of the ‘ligang libas’, and an opportunity to play at a grand stage.
Embracing a new role
Returning to the hardwood was much easier said than done for De Vera, as he had to be in tip-top condition for the grueling MPBL schedule, plus he also had to adjust to a new position.
“Getting back into basketball again, actually I wasn’t in the best shape as possible. I was actually big and heavy and talaganag galaw ko pang big man talaga,” he revealed.
A natural power/small forward when he played in college and in the pros, the 6-foot-4 nimble big man now anchors the interior for the Cavite-based ballers.
“Adjusting as a center for the Bacoor City Strikers, honestly it’s not really a big transition for me because all my life, I’ve always been the bigger kid,” he added. “So I’m actually used to playing the center or the four position. It’s actually my comfort zone playing as a center.”
Although he might be overpowered at times by more physically imposing behemoths inside the paint, De Vera is wise enough to use his varied skillset to his advantage; including his sweet outside stroke and quickness for his size.
“There will always be bigger guys and I always have to adjust so I try to be as versatile as possible. So just by using my athleticism, my agility and just by taking on the challenge (every single night),” he said.
Path to redemption
Much like most of the expansion teams in the MPBL, Bacoor is currently facing some growing pains this early into the season. After riding the euphoria of winning their debut match against the Cebu City Sharks, the Strikers loss back-to-back games in heartbreaking fashion, crumbling to the Pampanga Lanterns and Bulacan Kuyas by just a single point.
“Masaya talaga winning the debut game. You win games, you love it and enjoy it, but the thing is you don’t learn from it. You learn more by losing than you do by winning,” De Vera, who currently averages 7 points and 7.6 boards for Bacoor, addressed the team’s current slump.
“We know sa sarili namin that we didn’t lose to our competitors, we lost to ourselves. We have to go back to the drawing board and study ourselves kung bakit kami natalo,” he added. “We really do know that it’s on us. We know what we’re capable off kahit we were one of the last teams na nabuo for MPBL. Better we learn early now than later in the season.”
Still, De Vera, who remains gracious both in victory and in defeat, has nothing but gratitude for everyone who made his return to basketball possible.
“Nagpapasalamat ako kay boss Manny Pacquiao for opening this Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League kasi I had a lot an opportunity and I had a lot of calls and blessings for me to grab the chance na maglaro ulit ng basketball,” he said.
“Pasalamat din ako kay coach and for the management for getting me to the team. Pinili nila ako na maging big man for the team, especially with Marlou Aquino on our team who’s a real legend of the sport.”
(Images courtesy of MPBL Facebook page)