The 2017 SEABA Championship did not hand a tournament MVP award, but if it was up to Gilas coach Chot Reyes, he would give it to rookie Jio Jalalon.
“It’s hard to name a single player because different players stepped up every ballgame. But I really like the development and the play of Jio Jalalon,” he said. “I think that’s a guy who is going to be really special for the program.”
The Star Hotshots guard averaged 7.2 points, 5.2 assists, and 2.0 steals in six matches, leading all players in assists and steals per 40 minutes. He was also the third most efficient player in the entire tournament, next to teammates Andray Blatche and Calvin Abueva.
What makes it more impressive is that Jalalon was not the main floor general for Gilas Pilipinas. He served as backup to two of the best guards in the country in Jayson Castro and Terrence Romeo. But the way he facilitated and orchestrated the team’s offense really stood out.
Unlike the other guards, Jalalon was not expected to score and he had no problems in embracing this role. “Nagki-create lang ako sa loob. Di ko inuuna yung sarili ko. Inuuna ko yung mga kasama ko,” he said on his mindset every contest.
Aside from his remarkable passing skills, the former Arellano star also showcased his trademark hustle and defense, which earned praises not only from Reyes but also from Castro and Romeo. They all agreed that Jalalon’s defensive intensity is a vital piece to the Gilas puzzle. Hounding and rattling the opposing team’s best guards is his specialty.
“Ang tawag nga namin (sa defense ni Jio), one-man press. Kasi kaya niya talagang i-press yung ball-handler ng kalaban. At the same time, yung awareness, yung assists – talagang fit siya sa system,” the Blur remarked.
Romeo commended Jalalon’s style of play and his readiness to contribute whenever he’s inserted into the lineup. “Lagi kang may makukuha sa kanya. Matalino maglaro at nandun yung hustle nya. Every time pumapasok si Jio, siya yung pinagmumulan ng hustle namin so ang laki ng tulong nya sa team.”
While Jalalon is grateful for the recognition he received, he also knows that he still has a lot more to learn from his mentors in the national team. His basketball idol and kuya Jayson, in particular, kept reminding him to be aggressive and to be confident with his shot.
“Sobrang sarap na nakasama ko sina Kuya Jayson. Sobrang sarap kasi yung mga kasama ko, mga star player ng PBA. Sana magtuluy-tuloy itong ginagawa ko. Sana bigyan pa ako ng blessing ni God.”
The 24-year-old guard is not new to international competitions but he admits that it’s an entirely different experience to win a gold medal in an arena jampacked with Filipino fans.
“Pangatlo kong SEABA, ito yung pinaka-best kong naipakita kahit pangatlo ako sa guards,” he said. “Puso pa rin yung pinapakita ko kasi syempre, nakikita ko lahat ng Pilipino sumusuporta sa amin.”
Many may have doubted Jalalon’s inclusion in the SEABA 12 but he proved all naysayers wrong with his incredible performance. The continuous growth and improvement of young guys like him is what Gilas Pilipinas needs as they gear up for tougher battles ahead.
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