MANILA, Philippines -- When Colegio de San Juan de Letran played in the NCAA Final 4 last season, Jerrick Balanza was forced to watch from the stands, recovering from surgery to remove a tumor from his brain.
He was helpless as Lyceum of the Philippines University overwhelmed the Knights, 109-85, in the semifinals to barge into the championship round against San Beda University. What was a close game turned to a rout when JP Calvo suffered an injury in the third quarter, and the Knights trailed by as much as 37 points.
"Last year, wala ako, hindi ako nakatulong," said Balanza. "Ngayon, sabihin ko siguro, kung andoon ako baka iba yung istorya noon eh."
Now fully recovered, Balanza is back to playing at a high level for the Knights. On Thursday, he had 20 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals as Letran overcame a 19-point deficit to turn back Emilio Aguinaldo College, 87-79. It was their last elimination round game of NCAA Season 95.
The win assured Letran of the third seed in the Final 4. It was not exactly what they wanted, as the Knights were hoping to get one of the top two spots which would give them a twice-to-beat advantage.
"Thankful pa din kami," said Balanza. "Kasi, hindi man namin nakuha 'yung gusto naming spot, pasok pa rin kami sa apat."
They don't know who they will face in the Final 4 just yet. They don't even know what the format of the semifinals will be. A sweep by defending champion San Beda will make it a stepladder semifinals, but if they lose to Lyceum in their last game, there will be a traditional "Final 4."
As of now, the Knights are in "wait and see" mode. But Balanza said they cannot afford to relax while they wait.
"Ang mentality namin, hindi kami magre-relax eh, kailangan namin magtrabaho eh, kasi may goal kami eh," he said. "Mahirap mag-relax, baka bigla na lang kaming magbakasyon nang maaga."
This is the last thing that he wants, said Balanza.
"Last year ko na sa Letran eh. Ayaw kong umalis agad," he said emphatically. "Gusto ko pa sila makasama nang matagal eh, ayaw ko pang magbakasyon nang maaga."
Knowing that he has a chance to make up for his absence in last year's Final 4, Balanza vows to do all he can to make sure that the Knights reach the goal they set for themselves in Season 95.
"Kung ano'ng andiyan na haharapin ko, siyempre bibigay ko lahat," said Balanza. "Habang andito ako, gawin ko na kung ano 'yung dapat na mangyari, hindi 'yung pagkatapos, saka ko pagsisihan."
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