MANILA, Philippines -- Former Ateneo point guard SJ Belangel opens the new chapter of his basketball career on Friday, as he leaves for South Korea to officially join the Daegu KOGAS Pegasus.
Belangel became the first Filipino to sign as an Asian import in the Korean Basketball League (KBL) in June, when he inked a contract with Daegu KOGAS. In the process, Belangel opted to forego his final two seasons of eligibility with the Blue Eagles.
"Sobrang excited ko," Belangel told reporters at the sidelines of the JG4 Manila Tour on Thursday at the Ayala Malls Manila Bay.
"It's my first time [to be away], especially sa mga close teammates ko," he added.
His departure is bittersweet; Belangel is especially sad to leave Ange Kouame, one of his closest friends in the Blue Eagles. The two debuted for Ateneo in Season 81 and played together at the national team level, after Kouame was naturalized in 2021.
"Sinasabi ko, nagkukwentuhan kami ni Ange na it's my first time talaga na hindi ko siya makasama after a long time," said Belangel. "Parang nakakaiyak, pero at the same time we just have to grow and update each other."
"So ganoon pa rin, masaya. Excited na ako makalaro sa Korea."
Belangel joins a Daegu KOGAS team that finished with a 27-27 record last season, tied for a share of fifth in the league table. He expects to spend the first few days familiarizing himself with his new teammates and the team's system before the season starts in October.
"Next week ata, may mga laro na kami," said Belangel. "I might play or not, basta andoon lang ako. Pero tingnan pa kung anong mga need ko gawin, at saka 'yung mga plays, kailangan ko i-master."
Adding to Belangel's excitement is that he won't be the lone Filipino suiting up in the KBL. The Ateneo guard opened the doors for several others, including RJ Abarrientos (Ulsan Hyundai), Justin Gutang (Changwon LG), Rhenz Abando (Anyang KGC) and former Ateneo teammate William Navarro (Seoul Samsung).
"Actually, sobrang excited ako," said Belangel. "Nagkaloko-lokohan na nga kami na every time na bumisita kami sa isa't isang province, sila manlilibre."
"Pero at the same time, even though ganoon kami, 'pagka naglalaban-laban kami, walang kaibigan. Alam naman namin sa isa't isa 'yun," he added. "We're there to represent our country, we're there to represent our new team."
"At the end of the day, we're still friends. Alam niyo naman kami, kapag naglalaro kami, we give our best."
Belangel and Daegu KOGAS open their campaign on October 16 against KCC Egis.