MANILA, Philippines – When National University's (NU) J-Jay Alejandro found himself reeling after a shock defeat to University of the East (UE) midway through the UAAP Season 80 tournament, he found a source of inspiration in an unlikely person.
After seeing a sterling 16-point, eight-rebound, 10-assist effort wasted in a 90-77 loss to UE to open the second round, Alejandro's spirit was boosted by a surprise message from a former rival – two-time UAAP Most Valuable Player Kiefer Ravena.
"Chineck ko 'yung phone ko," Alejandro recalled. "Nakita ko, 'Jay, Manong 'to. 'Parang ganoon. So alam ko na, kasi 'manong' ang tawag ko sa kanya."
The message from "Manong Kiefer" was simple: In his final season for the NU Bulldogs, Alejandro has to take charge.
"Sinasabi niya lang is, huwag akong pumayag na matalo ulit," Alejandro explained. "Kailangan magsimula sa akin lahat – offensively and defensively."
"Kailangan sa akin manggaling, offensively and defensively. Pakita ko sa mga teammates ko," he added.
It was not a one-time deal either. Alejandro continued to play well, but the Bulldogs struggled to come up with victories. Including their defeat against the Red Warriors, NU lost four of their first five games in the second round.
Alejandro continued to go to Ravena for advice, and the incoming PBA rookie continued to harp on him to lead the way for his squad.
"Every game na hindi ako nakaka-double figures, or mababa sa 20 points 'yung score (ko), lagi akong nakaka-receive ng text kay Kiefer," said Alejandro. "Nagtatanong ako sa kanya kung ano bang dapat gawin sa certain situations."
It is only now that Alejandro feels comfortable texting Ravena for tips. He admits that they were not really close, but believes that the "Phenom" felt compelled to help him because of his relationship with Alejandro's coach – Jamike Jarin.
Jarin was Ravena's coach when he was a star for Ateneo in high school.
Still, it surprised Alejandro to receive such a message from Ravena. "Flattered ako, siyempre," said the graduating NU guard. "Idol ko 'yun eh, Kiefer Ravena, two-time MVP."
"Sobrang inspired ako na nanggagaling sa kanya 'yung mga tinuturo niya, sa experience niya," he added.
If Alejandro was surprised, his coach was not. For Jarin, Ravena's gesture was just another way for the player to give back – and to pay back the coach who helped him become "The Phenom" that he is now.
"Kiefer has always been following what I've been doing. Kasi 'yung anak kong 'yun, in his own little way, he tries to give back sa akin. Inaalalayan niya ako, and I really appreciate that," said Jarin.
Jarin bared that Alejandro is not the only player to have received advice from Ravena. "Sa mga previous players ko, ginagawa niya rin," he told ABS-CBN News.
"And not only sa mga naging player ko – but marami rin. It just shows that he's a selfless person. He shares his knowledge and what God has given him," he added.
On Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum, Alejandro showed that he is taking Ravena's advice to heart. With his team badly needing a victory to stay in the race for the Final Four, Alejandro took charge, scoring 11 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter to propel NU to a come-from-behind 87-84 win over Far Eastern University.
After the game, Ravena was ready with another inspirational text for Alejandro.
"He told me na 'Ayaw mong last game mo na sa Saturday.' That's enough motivation for me," Alejandro revealed.
For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.