MANILA, Philippines – With Ateneo veteran Matt Nieto nearing the end of his collegiate career, another point guard is looking more than ready to take up the mantle for the Blue Eagles – sophomore SJ Belangel.
Belangel scored a career-high 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting in just 13 minutes last Wednesday, when Ateneo routed University of the Philippines, 86-64, to close out the elimination round of UAAP Season 82.
The 20-year-old guard's scoring burst in limited time helped the two-time defending champions seal the 14-0 sweep and claim outright finals berth in the men's basketball tournament.
Because of this, Belangel was awarded his first-ever Chooks-to-Go Collegiate Press Corps UAAP Player of the Week award.
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The Blue Eagles' young guard is not not only playing for another championship, but for his graduating seniors as well.
"Sa akin lang, para 'to sa mga seniors ko especially kay kuya Matt at kuya Mike [Nieto], at saka siyempre 'yung ibang seniors kasi last year na nila," said Belangel after their triumph over the Fighting Maroons, the team that they beat in last season's Finals.
"Noong juniors, wala akong chance na makasama sila kaya lagi ko na lang nire-remind sa sarili na lalaro ako para sa mga seniors ko. Luckily, maganda laro ko," he added.
Even in Ateneo's deep rotation, Belangel has managed to carve out his niche as a reliable reserve for Tab Baldwin with averages of 6.4 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists on 40.5 percent shooting from the three-point area in just under 12 minutes.
Though he has quite a few more steps to take before realizing his potential, Belangel is just chipping in whatever help he can give whenever his number is called, especially now that Ateneo is just two wins away from a three-peat.
"Lagi lang ready whether pinapalaro ka or di man," he said. "Basta 'pag nasa bench ka, kapag tinawag ka ni coach, laging ready lang. Kahit one minute ka lang, bigay mo lahat."
Belangel bested a list of veterans like La Salle’s Jamie Malonzo, UE's Rey Suerte, Adamson's Mar Prado, and National U's Jack Animam for the weekly award handed out by print and online scribes covering the beat.
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