MANILA, Philippines—In the wake of one of their most important victories of UAAP Season 81, De La Salle forward Leonard "Santi" Santillan was overcome with tears.
The hard-working veteran put up 18 points and 5 rebounds in La Salle's 84-77 triumph over National University on Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum. His bucket with less than two minutes left highlighted the Green Archers' game-ending 9-1 run that put them in control of the contest for good.
Afterward, the 22-year-old big man shed tears even as he and his teammates sung their school hymn, and remained emotional as he talked to reporters after the game.
Santillan, a transferee from the University of the Visayas who is in his second and final year for La Salle, was in tears as he remembered the family that he left behind in Lapu-Lapu, Cebu, as well as his wife and son in Hawaii.
He had not gone home to Cebu since December of last year, and has not seen his wife, Alicia May, and son Lucas, since February.
"Yung first word niya, first birthday niya, wala ako doon," said Santillan. "Sobra talagang hirap."
The eldest of five siblings, Santillan said he was overwhelmed by homesickness and sadness after the game, hence the tears.
"Talagang pumasok lang sa isipan ko at sa puso ko na sobrang na-miss ko na sila, gusto ko na sila makita. Talagang emotional ako," he said.
Regular conversations over video calls are not enough, said Santillan, who expressed his longing to see his family in person.
"Talagang sakripisyo talaga, wala na akong iba dito. Ako lang mag-isa dito," he said. "Buti nga andyan ang mga teammates ko, mga coaches na naging tatay ko rin. Talagang minsan, hindi na ako naho-homesick."
Yet, this same homesickness that caused him to break down after their game against NU also serves as his driving force, as his UAAP career enters its final stretch.
"Siguro, 'yung sakripisyo ko lang, dahil para naman sa kanila ito eh, wala namang iba. Talagang every game, dine-dedicate ko sa pamilya ko," said Santillan.
"Noong nakaraang practices, nag-tanong si coach sa amin na kanino ide-dedicate ang season na ito. Tapos pagkatapos ng practice, umuwi ako, talagang umiyak ako kasi, dine-dedicate ko ito sa family ko kasi sobrang na-miss ko sila," he also said.
His teammates -- some of whom share Santillan's experience -- are in full support of the veteran big man who has served as one of La Salle's anchors in the post-Ben Mbala era.
"Me, personally, alam ko 'yung feeling na, 'yung nararamdaman ni Santi. Kasi hindi ko rin kasama pamilya ko. Kung nakita namin si Santi na ganyan, mas gaganahan kami mag-laro, na ibigay 'yung 100% namin," said guard Aljun Melecio.
And their head coach, Louie Gonzales, was quick to hail the forward for keeping his focus despite his struggles with homesickness.
"Actually when I went to the dugout, when I looked at the stats, doon ko na-prove how efficient and how focused Santi is. He played the longest sa game na ito, but committed no turnovers," the coach said.
"Napaka-hirap noon, he played 32, 33 minutes, but walang turnover," he added. "Talagang sobra ang focus niya, 'yung inspiration niya."
"I know this kid, since January pa lang, alam ko na 'yung pinagdadaanan niya, na sabi ko sa kanya, what he's doing right now, para naman sa pamilya niya. Andito na, kaunti na lang Dong."
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