MANILA, Philippines -- Thirdy Ravena's first season with the San-En NeoPhoenix did not play out as he expected.
Thanks to several factors -- from a late start to injuries to COVID-19 -- Ravena never quite got to show what he was capable of in Japan's B.League. He missed their first few games due to visa issues and COVID-19 quarantine protocols; his momentum was then halted in late November when he tested positive for the coronavirus.
When he returned in January, it was only for a brief period. Ravena fractured his finger in a game against Shibuya, and missed nearly three months of action. A knee injury that he sustained against Ryukyu on April 14 then kept him from playing for the rest of the season.
"No one wanted this to happen, I mean, all the injuries and the COVID situation and not being able to play the last couple of games due to more injuries," said Ravena, who played just 18 games for NeoPhoenix this season.
"I never expected it, especially nung college ako, never ako nagkaroon ng kahit anong injury. I was able to play all of my games and I was healthy," he added. "So it's definitely an experience na well, first of all hindi ko nga siya in-expect, but it's an experience na grateful ako na nangyari kasi ito 'yung mga tinuturo."
Ravena was the most durable of players during his collegiate career with the Ateneo de Manila University, wherein he won three UAAP titles. But in his first season in the B.League, he was unable to play at 100%.
For one, Ravena did not really get a true preseason with San-En, having come into the team when the season was already in progress. This meant that he could not build chemistry with his teammates or master the system put in place by NeoPhoenix coach Branislav Vićentić.
And because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ravena knew he wasn't in tiptop shape when he arrived in Japan. While he kept himself in good condition in the Philippines, he was unable to play in 5-on-5 scrimmages and was thus not in game shape for the B.League season.
His COVID-19 diagnosis and injuries only compounded the problem.
"I think nanibago rin lang 'yung katawan ko with everything that's happening in Japan. It doesn't help with the fact na dumating ako dito na I wasn't in the shape that I wanted to be when I came here," he explained.
"I feel like I was always playing on 80% or 70%," he admitted. "And if you play those games in a tournament like the B League where you have five games in eight days, I mean… something could go wrong."
Ravena's fears were realized when he fractured his finger in January -- an injury that required surgery. Tweaking his knee in April, just as he was starting to get back into the groove of things, was another source of frustration.
Nonetheless, he knew he had to maintain his composure amid the difficult season.
"I mean, nakaka-frustrate siya. But to be professional, kailangan gawin mo pa rin 'yung trabaho mo in terms of recovering and really just motivating yourself in terms of trying to get in a position mentally where you're ready or where you can work to get back as soon as possible and help the team," he said.
"Hindi pwede rin na-down lang ako na I'd feel bad for myself 'cause you know, you're in the pros. Hindi na pwede 'yung ganun in the team who's relying on me to be of service to your teammates. So yeah, I mean, I'm just really just focusing on the good throughout all the obstacles, which is, you know, to be able to help the team," he added.
When he could play, Ravena was still far from satisfied with his performances. He averaged just 9.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game this season. He also shot just 35.8% from the field, including just 27% from beyond the arc.
Another thing that was new to Ravena? The losing. San-En finished with a 12-47 win-loss record in his first season; in his Ateneo career, Ravena lost a total of 17 games. The Blue Eagles memorably went 16-0 in his final campaign with them.
"Honestly, parang nabaliktad nga 'yung perspective (ko)," said Ravena. "From not losing for two years, and then I was just in a situation na we were underdogs and we were really considered na one of the, you know, weakest teams in the B1."
"It was tough, but it was a nice challenge," he added. "I mean, maganda rin 'yung walang naniniwala sa'yo 'cause you get that drive, you get that motivation and that hunger to really play every single game kasi gusto mo talaga ipakita sa lahat na hindi kayo pwedeng balewalain."
It was a challenge that Ravena had already anticipated coming into the San-En, as the team went 5-36 in its previous season. Yet, much like his entire experience with the club and the league, Ravena took the situation as a learning experience.
"It's always a challenge. I always take it as a challenge and I have no regrets at the end of the day joining Neophoenix, kasi I wanted that challenge and (it) really helped me a lot as a person," he said.
Ravena is now waiting for the team's decision on his next contract, and he is also open to possibly playing for another team or even a different league, should the opportunity come his way.
And while his first season as a professional player didn't play out as he wanted to, Ravena believes it all happened for a reason.
"All of these accumulated situations, at the end of the day, I'm very grateful kasi marami akong natutunan and I was able to learn a lot about myself," he said.
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