MANILA, Philippines -- Roger Pogoy has been turning heads with his remarkable performances for TNT Tropang Giga since the PBA Philippine Cup restarted in a bubble in Clark, Pampanga.
The shooting guard immediately made a statement, scoring a career-high 45 points in their first game, a 100-95 win over Alaska. He made 10 of his 17 three-point attempts in that game, while also grabbing eight rebounds.
Even a sprained ankle did not stop Pogoy. One game after sustaining the injury against San Miguel Beer, he suited up against Phoenix Super LPG, and promptly dropped 30 points, making five of 11 triples.
"Gusto ko maglaro eh. Kasi basta, gusto ko lang maglaro," he said afterward.
He tested his ankle during warm-ups, and when he experienced little pain, he told TNT coaching consultant Mark Dickel that he was ready to play. Pogoy played over 36 minutes in the contest.
"Hindi na talaga siya masakit," he said after the game. "Okay na siya."
Against his former college coach Nash Racela and the Blackwater Elite on Thursday, Pogoy submitted one of his best all-around performances, with 20 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and three steals in a 109-96 triumph. It gave TNT a 5-0 record in the conference, the best in the league.
The ankle injury seemed to be a thing of the past for Pogoy, who played over 34 minutes in the game. Afterwards, he gave full credit to his teammates and coaches for yet another superb outing that merited him Best Player of the Game honors for the third time in the conference.
So far, he is averaging 24.2 points -- the third-best mark in the league -- along with 6.6 points, 2.0 assists, and 2.0 steals per game. He has been highly efficient as well, shooting 47.4% from the field including 43.1% from beyond the arc, and 90.0% at the free throw line.
"Shoutout to my teammates kasi 'yun nga, sa sistema lang din naman nakukuha ko 'yung points ko eh, sa mga pasa nila, so hindi naman individual 'to eh. So siguro, sumusunod lang kami sa sistema ni coach," he said.
Pogoy's superb play in the bubble is no accident.
During the long months of quarantine, the guard out of Far Eastern University (FEU) came to a realization and a decision, as he pondered his role in the TNT squad. Pogoy had always been hesitant to think of himself as a franchise player, instead pointing out that such a distinction still belongs to "The Blur," Jayson Castro.
But as he grows more and more confident in his game, Pogoy is becoming more willing to accept a bigger role and a bigger responsibility within TNT.
"Ako, 'yung iniisip ko lang talaga noong quarantine, nalagay sa isip ko is gusto kong seryosohin talaga ang basketball," said Pogoy. "Kasi, naisip ko din 'yun, minsan lang palang ganito. Minsan lang maging player. 'Di mo alam 'yung kinabukasan eh, biglang mag-pandemic."
"So sabi ko, mabigyan pa ulit ng opportunity na makalaro ulit ang PBA, so seryosohin ko na talaga 'yung PBA," he added.
His renewed determination and focus is apparent.
Last season, Pogoy made it to the Mythical Second Team and established himself as a mainstay of the Philippine national team program. This season, he has made a case that he is TNT's first option on offense -- despite being on a squad that still features Jayson Castro and Ray Parks.
Throughout it all, he still does not want to consider himself as a star.
"Seryoso, wala, 'di ko iniisip 'yan. Basta, as long as maglaro ako. Ganoon lang. Ganoon lang talaga palagi," he said.
Nonetheless, he is ready to embrace his bigger role in TNT -- thanks in large part to the encouragement of Castro, who has been in Pogoy's ear constantly, encouraging him to continue stepping up and be a more mature version of himself.
"Palaging sinasabi nila Kuya Jayson, 'yung mga beterano dito na, parang sabi nila na, 'Team niyo na 'to, kailangan kayong mag-step up na talaga, kasi kayo na ang susunod dito'," Pogoy recalled.
"Kaya sabi ko, seryoso na ako, hindi na ako magpa-bata-bata pa na tawa-tawa lang palagi," he added.
For Pogoy, his much improved play is geared towards just one thing -- his long-held desire to finally win a title in the PBA. He has won at every level of basketball -- from high school to college -- but a championship in the professional ranks remains elusive.
They made the finals in the 2019 PBA Commissioner's Cup, anchored by prolific import Terrence Jones. They still lost to San Miguel Beer in six games.
"'Yun talaga ang palaging iniisip ko, na simula noong high school or grade school ata ako, champion ako lahat," said Pogoy.
"Ito na lang talaga -- wala pa akong champion sa PBA, so sobrang gutom ko. Gutom na gutom at gusto ko na talagang mag-champion dito," he said.