MANILA, Philippines – Before Strong Group Realty battled the Zamboanga Valientes in a closed-door tune-up game at Kerry Sports in BGC last Wednesday, John Amores and NCAA Most Valuable Player Will Gozum discreetly approached each other for a handshake.
Having played all of his games in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) overseas so far, it was the first time Amores was able to share the floor with Gozum again after the infamous NCAA Season 98 incident that transpired last November.
The two exchanged pleasantries and made it a point to let everyone know they have left everything behind, carrying lessons from the event forward.
“Nagkamustahan lang, okay naman kami. Naayos naman na namin (before). Wala kaming ilangan sa isa’t isa, okay ako sa kanila, okay sila sa akin,” Amores shared.
In a way, the two both had their second chances in basketball, albeit in different contexts; Amores was given an unlikely path to redemption which he has embraced, while Gozum transformed his collegiate career after moving from the University of the Philippines (UP) to the Blazers.
Signed by the Valientes last December, it did not take long for Amores to turn the tides after the Jose Rizal University (JRU) versus College of St. Benilde (CSB) scuffle which ultimately led to his expulsion from the Heavy Bombers and indefinite suspension from the NCAA.
Days after the incident, Amores reached out personally to Benilde and current Strong Group head coach Charles Tiu with the intent of going to the Blazers’ practice facility to apologize personally and take accountability for his actions.
“Mas ginusto ko ‘yun, mas maganda sa pakiramdam na personally, nakapunta ako sa kanila at makahingi ng sorry. Mas magaan sa sarili ko ‘yun. Walang ibang nagsabi sa akin na gawin ‘yun, sarili ko lang,” Amores recalled.
“Nag-chat lang talaga ako kay Coach Charles, na baka puwedeng personal na makahingi ng sorry sa team.”
Uncertain of what was supposed to happen next in his could-have-been derailed basketball career, Amores got an assist from Heavy Bombers head coach Louie Gonzalez, who vouched for him and connected him to Zamboanga’s team owner Junnie Navarro.
“Tinanong niya ako kung gusto ko maglaro para sa Zamboanga,” Amores shared. “Sabi ko, ‘Opo, Coach. Maglalaro ako.’ Ni-refer niya ako kay Junnie Navarro. Siya ang isa sa mga tumulong sa akin para makapag-laro ng basketball ulit.”
Since then, Amores has come a long way, embarking on an unthinkable journey that has led him to playing overseas in Singapore and Indonesia since, with stops in Malaysia and Vietnam waiting in the wings.
“Sobrang saya dahil isa ako sa mga nabigyan ng opportunity para makapag-laro sa ABL, at para itama ang mga mali ko,” he said.
Strong Group went on to beat the Valientes in the practice game, 97-89. As players from both teams shook hands at centercourt, Amores also got a pat in the back from some.
Aware of what he has done in the past, Amores has turned the ABL Invitational 2023 experience into a platform to embrace the next chapter of his journey -- and he is getting recognized for it.
With the Valientes, he has learned to let go of the past, take the lessons from it with him wherever he goes, and enjoy the present.
Before he charts his next pro career move, Amores said he will bask in the moment for now, knowing second chances do not come often.
“‘Yung itama lang ang mga mali kong ginawa. Kahit past na ‘yun, kailangan baunin ko ‘yun kung saan man ako makarating. Kailangan i-lista ko sa utak ko ‘yun na hindi ka na pwedeng magkamali sa desisyon mo ulit,” Amores said.
“Kahit papa’no, nakakapag-adjust na. 23 years old pa lang naman ako. Magta-trabaho muna ako. Hindi muna ako nagpa-plano masyado. E-enjoyin ko muna.”