UAAP: How it all began for JD Cagulangan, toast of Fighting Maroons basketball

Rey Joble

Posted at May 15 2022 03:09 PM | Updated as of May 16 2022 04:51 PM

Fighting Maroons guard JD Cagulangan in action against the Blue Eagles in Game 2 of the UAAP Season 84 men’s basketball finals on May 11, 2022 at MoA Arena in Pasay. UAAP Media
Fighting Maroons guard JD Cagulangan in action against the Blue Eagles in Game 2 of the UAAP Season 84 men’s basketball finals on May 11, 2022 at MoA Arena in Pasay. UAAP Media

Giant-slayer Joel Diomar Cagulangan Jr., the hero of University of the Philippines’ latest title run that ended the Fighting Maroons’ 36-year drought, is the man of the moment.

For the thousands who packed the Mall of Asia Arena to watch the historic moment of UP ending Ateneo’s dynasty following its 72-69 overtime victory in Game 3 of the finals series, and the entire school community, Cagulangan is the modern day hero.

But even at an early age, Cagulangan has the makings of a basketball legend.

His father, Joel Sr., used to play panalay, a term coined by Visayan cagers for ligang labas.

“Nahilig siya mga 6 na taong gulang pa lang. Parati siyang sumasama sa akin kapag may laro ako. Player ako dito sa amin dito sa Butuan. Naglalaro ako ng panalay. ’Yan ang ikinabubuhay ko noon. Ngayon, nagko-coach na ako sa school, nagti-training sa mga bata,” the elder Cagulangan shared to ABS-CBN News in a telephone interview.

“Nu’ng nagsisimula na siyang mag-basketball, ako ’yung nagtuturo sa kanya.”

Father and son shared the spotlight on street ball pick up games and even as an elementary student, the young Cagulangan wanted to prove that he wants to become a giant slayer, playing against opponents who are bigger, stronger and older than him.

“Alam niyo, dito sa amin, kahit na elementary pa lang siya, ang kalaban niya dito sa amin, mga college player na dito sa amin. Ang sabi nga ng kalaban namin, kasi nga sumasabay ako sa paglalaro, ‘Huwag mo na pasalihin yung anak mo, ang liit pa, baka madaganan.’ Sabi ko ‘hindi yan madadaganan kasi mautak yan maglaro.’ Nung naglalaro na kami nag-crossover si Mai-Mai talagang walang-wala sila hindi sila makasabay. Doon ko nakita na talagang may mararating si Mai-Mai. Kasi yung basketball IQ niya,” said the elder Cagulangan.

When the young Cagulangan started playing competitive basketball, he was discovered by coach Cris Bautista.

Then a member of La Salle Greenhills coaching staff which competed in the NCAA, Bautista was the one who recruited Cagulangan.

Bautista is now the commissioner of the VisMin Super Cup.

“Si Coach Cris kasi naka-discover kay Mai-Mai sa Palarong Pambansa,” said the elder Cagulangan.

In the Palarong Pambansa about a decade ago, Cagulangan immediately made waves, stamping his class even against bigger opponents and once again, displayed his giant-slaying ways. 

“Yung Central Luzon, kalaban nina Mai-Mai sa Palarong Pambansa, may mga Fil-foreign players. Tinalo nila. Noon pa lang, nakita ko na siya na magiging magaling na point guard,” added the elder Cagulangan.

When Cagulangan left Butuan to pursue a career playing in Metro Manila for La Salle Greenhills team, his parents were worried. His son, only 12 years old at that time, is going to be away with his family in chase of his dreams of playing big-time hoops. 

“As a parent, worried kami na napalayo sa amin yung anak namin sa murang edad. Pero nakita ko naman yung school na pinuntahan niya (La Salle Greenhills). Yung compound hindi siya makakalabas kung walang pahintulot sa amin. Tumatawag muna ang coach sa amin bago siya makalabas,” said Joel Sr.

“Nakita ko kasi yung La Salle Greenhills, parating lumalaban yan sa championship. Mula Grade 7 until high school dyan siya.”

The young Cagulangan won a championship as a high school player for La Salle Greenhills in 2017, the same year where he was adjudged the Finals MVP.

“Nanalo kami ng isa, which was considered the big one, sa NCAA, then sa iba’t-ibang tournaments rin nanalo kami,” added the young Cagulangan. “Marami rin kasi kaming sinasalihan na liga.”

Cagulangan was thinking of continuing to play under La Salle’s program until college, but things didn’t turn out well for him, so he decided to move to UP. 

“Pinag-usapan naming pamilya yang pagpunta niya sa UP. Nung time na nag-MVP si Mai-Mai sa NCAA, ang gusto namin, mag-UP siya kasi ga-graduate si Jun Manzo. Si Jun Manzo taga-rito rin yan sa amin. Ang gusto ni Mai-Mai La Salle talaga kaya hindi pinigilan. Pero si Mai-Mai eventually, siya na rin ang nagdesisyon na lilipat na siya ng UP,” added the elder Cagulangan.

With UP, the young Cagulangan was given an opportunity to take the spotlight during the big stage and true enough, he came out ready to perform.

Down by five in overtime, Cagulangan responded by hitting a three-point shot inside the final minute of the extra period that sparked the Fighting Maroons’ comeback. Then he capped the best game of the season with a game-winning trey as emotions filled the entire Arena with people clad in maroon celebrating in jubilation.

UP is back as UAAP champion after 36 years and it was made possible by a giant-slayer, a pint-sized guard in Cagulangan.

“This is my career-defining moment. Sino ba namang magaakala. Bangko sa La Salle, pero nakaag-deliver ng winning basket and nakatulong para mag-champion ang UP,” said the young Cagulangan.

"Malaki rin ang naitulong nung nilalabanan ko nung bata pa ako mga mama. Doon nga sa probinsiya, nagagawa kong sumabay sa mga mas matatanda. So inisip ko rin nung naglalaro ako sa UAAP, kaya ko ring ipakita dito." 

His dad wasn’t surprised that he will rise to the occasion. 

“Si Mai-Mai sanay na ako sa kanya na makakita ng mga larong ganyan. Dito sa amin sa Mindanao atsaka nung time niya sa NCAA, kalaban nila yung San Beda, talagang palitan ng three-points yun. Nanalo yung La Salle Greenhills. Alam ko na kapag nakabitaw yang si Mai-Mai, talagang titira yan. Mautak yan,” added the elder Cagulangan.

His folks from Barangay San Ignacio in Butuan could only be more proud. 

“Talagang sobrang masaya kami ng pamilya niya at mga kababayan niya dito sa Butuan, lalo na dito sa barangay namin. Nakagawa siya ng history. Katulad nung ginawa niya sa La Salle Greenhills.

"Nanonood yung mga ka-barangay namin nung championship. Parang may laban si (Manny) Pacquiao. Hinto lahat yung barangay namin. Sinabihan rin kasi ng SK namin dito na sumuporta kay Mai-Mai,” said the elder Cagulangan.

The young Cagulangan isn’t looking too far ahead. He wants to savor this moment, but he knows he’ll play a bigger role for the Fighting Maroons next season as an incoming junior player.

Just like every basketball player, he dreams of playing in the PBA someday, but he is not rushing things and wants to focus on his studies at UP and help the Fighting Maroons in their title retention bid next season.

“Sana kaawaan siya ng Diyos. Ang dream ng anak ko, makapag-PBA at makatapos sa pag-aaral,” said the elder Cagulangan.

His son could only agree.

“Dream ko at ng family ko ang makapaglaro sa PBA,” said the young Cagulangan. “Pero gusto ko muna i-enjoy yung moment bilang isang UAAP champion.”

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