Four-time NCAA Champion Jaypee Mendoza is Moving On After Derailed PBA Career

In our latest exclusive interview, Dribble Media’s ZerJosh Serrano talked to Jaypee Mendoza about his championship-filled NCAA stint and his derailed PBA career. 

"Yung four years ko sa San Beda, lahat yun champion. Hindi ko naranasan matalo sa Finals ng NCAA."

-Jaypee

An ultimate role player ever since his championship-filled collegiate career in the NCAA, Jaypee Mendoza never ached for the spotlight. But one thing is for sure: he is a winner.

As a kid growing up in Tarlac, basketball wasn’t even in the mind of the young Jaypee Mendoza. Sepak Takraw was the first sport he loved, but it was obvious at a young age that Jaypee was already towering over his peers.

So his father encouraged him to try basketball, and as they, the rest is history. He received a basketball scholarship from Tarlac State University, which turned out to be the first stepping stone of his basketball career.

“Hindi talaga basketball ang laro ko. Sepak takraw ang laro ko noon. Yung father ko lang ang nagsabi na subukan ko ang basketball kasi may height ako. So nag-try ako mag-basketball hanggang sa nagustuhan ko na at nakakuha ako ng scholarship sa Tarlac. Thankful din ako sa mga naging coaches ko sa Tarlac lalo na kay Coach Jeff Herrera, Coach Alex Harrow, and Coach Punx Bautista. Sila yung nag-train talaga sa akin. Doon ako nag-improve. Kung hindi dahil sa kanila, hindi ako makakarating ng PBA.”

-Jaypee
Jaypee Mendoza with the 2008 RP-Youth team
Jaypee (end right among seated players) posing for a picture with the 2008 Nokia Under-18 Philippine Youth Team

From the province to the international stage

A lot of people don’t know that Jaypee once donned the national colors on the international stage.

With his quickly improving skill set and his length at the wing position, Jaypee received recruitment offers from colleges and universities in Manila. In 2008, he was recruited by the Ateneo De Manila University and the RP-Youth team, which is what we now call Batang Gilas.

Jaypee went back and forth trying out for both the national team and Ateneo, but he eventually decided to focus on suiting up for the RP-Youth squad. He competed in the SEABA and FIBA Asia tournaments, playing with top-tier names like RR Garcia, Matthew Wright, Ian Sangalang, Gab Banal, and Norbert Torres.

As a teenager still getting his feet wet in the bustling streets of Manila, Jaypee’s dream was to play in the UAAP, where amateur competition and exposure are at the highest level. But a call from the national team radiates a different kind of value, something that Jaypee held on to.

“In 2008, may nag-invite sa akin na mag-tryout sa Ateneo at sa RP-Youth. Sinubukan ko na kasi pangarap ko din maglaro sa UAAP. Grabe kasi exposure doon. Nag-tryout ako sa Ateneo, and at the same time, sumubok din ako sa RP-Youth. Sa awa ng Diyos, pinabalik ako both teams kaso kailangan ko pumili ng isa. Mas pinili ko yung RP-Youth. Iniisip ko kasi na baka ma-homesick ako sa Ateneo at ma-culture shock ako kasi galing ako sa province.”

-Jaypee
Jaypee won four NCAA championships with the San Beda Red Lions

From UAAP to NCAA

After his stints with the RP-Youth squad, Jaypee suited up for the University of the East Red Warriors, playing for then-head coach Dindo Pumaren. However, Coach Dindo would leave the Red Warriors’ camp, which left Jaypee with this dilemma: he has nowhere to go.

But his former coach also suggested that he try out for the San Beda Red Lions, a team that is already becoming a powerhouse in the NCAA. Jaypee did not just successfully make it to the team, but he also helped bring more success to the Red Lions. He would win four championships in the four years he played for the team, establishing himself as a valuable role player in all those title runs.

“After ko sa UE, hindi ko talaga alam kung saan ako pupunta. Tumawag sa akin si Coach Dindo noon na aalis na siya. Tinanong niya ako kung saan ako pupunta so sabi ko kung aalis siya, aalis na din ako. Then na-suggest niya na mag-try ako sa San Beda. Thankful ako kasi ang laking blessing na napunta ako sa Beda. Parang sila yung nag-save sa akin. Sobrang lakas din ng team namin. Yung four years ko sa Beda, lahat yun champion. Hindi ko na-experience na matalo sa Finals ng NCAA. Sobrang memorable.”

-Jaypee

Reaching his PBA dream and the pain of losing it

In 2015, Jaypee was selected by the Alaska Aces in the second round of the annual PBA Draft. Even though he has already played for the national team and won multiple championships in San Beda, Jaypee’s name was still under the radar for most people. His draft batchmates includes big-time names such as Moala Tautuaa, Troy Rosario, Chris Newsome, Scottie Thompson, Baser Amer, and Aljon Mariano among many others.

But Jaypee never had a problem in being an under-the-radar player for almost the entirety of his career. He has always been a role player at heart, something that he takes a lot of pride in.

“Since college ako, hindi talaga ako naging star. Role player talaga ako. Alam ko yung trabaho ko, at alam ko yung mga dapat ko lang gawin. Noon pa lang sa San Beda, hindi ko na kailangan mag-score kasi kahit kanino mo ibigay yung bola, may iiskor talaga. So para makuha ko yung attention ng coaches ko, gagawin ko talaga yung role ko. Sa rebounds, defense, and hustle yung role ko ever since. Every time na nasa court ako, 100% talaga ibibigay ko. Nasa iyo din kasi kung paano ka susunod sa sistema ng team mo.”

-Jaypee
Jaypee fights for a loose ball while suiting up for Phoenix

Jaypee would go on to also play for the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters, where he would also fulfill the role of an undersized power forward. In 2019, he would undergo a bone spur removal procedure but eventually go back to practicing with the team and playing in tune-up games after three months.

However, it was then that the unexpected happened. One night, Jaypee woke up to unbearable pain in his lower back. He saw that the entirety of his legs was swelling up, and he could not move, let alone stand on his own. They immediately went to the doctors, and they found blood clots on his legs.

Aside from the unbearable physical pain, it was a turmoil of emotions for Jaypee and his family. This has happened before.

Back when Jaypee was still playing in San Beda in 2011, he was already diagnosed with Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) before the season began. DVT is a life-threatening condition that is similar to the career-ending injury that ex-NBA two-time champion Chris Bosh suffered. The blood clots in Jaypee’s legs shot up to his lungs, forcing him to have severe difficulty in breathing.  

The blood clots eventually subsided, paving the way for Jaypee to get back to normal playing form in 2012. But when he suffered the same setback two years ago, it was like the writing is already on the wall. The interesting pattern is that the blood clots would act up months after Jaypee undergoes major injury treatments. He went through surgery on his ACL injury prior to when he first sustained blood clots in 2011. Then as mentioned earlier, he had his bone spurs removed three months before being diagnosed with blood clots for the second time.

“That night, nag-practice pa nga ako the day before. Pero paggising ko, namamaga na buong legs ko tapos sobrang sakit ng lower back ko. Nagpunta na agad ako sa Cardio Vascular at nakita nila na nangyari ulit yung blood clots sa legs ko. Sobrang dami. Na-trigger siya noong after surgery ko in 2009, then nangyari ulit noong 2019 three months after ng bone spurs removal ko. Hindi talaga ako makalakad for one week. Sobrang hirap dahil may discoloration na. Pero thankful pa rin ako na kahit hindi na ako makabalik sa basketball, basta importante na mabigyan ako ng chance ni God na mabuhay pa ako. Ayoko na i-question kung bakit sa akin nangyari ito.”

-Jaypee

The DVT diagnosis came right after his contract with Phoenix ended. But the Phoenix management was still behind him, extending their support to the 6-foot-3 combo forward. Despite the huge cloud of uncertainty, Phoenix still signed him to a one-conference deal and shouldered Jaypee’s hospital bills.

“Actually, end na ng contract ko noon. Before ako ma-diagnose with the blood clots, pinag-uusapan na namin ng management yung panibago ko na contract. Pero paglabas ko ng hospital, pinapirma pa rin ako ng Phoenix. Sila rin yung gumastos sa ospital kaya sobrang thankful ako sa kanila sa support nila sa akin. Pero eventually, nag-decide ako na mag-stop na lang muna sa basketball. Akala ko within six months, makakabalik ako. Sana nga nagka-ACL na lang ako kasi may exact timetable kung kailan ka gagaling. So nagsabi ako sa Phoenix na mag-stop na lang muna ako kasi unfair naman na wala ako naitutulong sa team. Magpapagaling na lang muna ako and if ever na bigyan ako ng chance na makalaro ulit, babalik na lang ako.”

-Jaypee

Life goes on for Jaypee and his family

You can never be ready when these things happen. For Jaypee, he did not just lose a job, but he also lost what he has loved doing for more than a decade. When he was diagnosed with blood clots for the second time, the former Phoenix forward preferred not to speak about it, which is the main reason why we were left with questions regarding his absence in the most recent PBA conference.

“Parang ayoko na ito ipagsabi noon. Mismong mga teammates ko nga hindi alam. Yung mga talagang ka-close ko lang yung may alam kasi ayoko talaga ilabas. Gusto ko na kung ano yung nangyari sa akin, sa akin na lang muna.”

-Jaypee

But Jaypee was fortunate that he has a family who stood by him since Day 1. There’s more to life outside and after basketball, which Jaypee was quick to realize. He maintained a positive attitude throughout the ongoing ordeal, thanks to the never-ending support of his wife and children.

Of course, there is still the hope that Jaypee will return to the court. He is still doing light exercises and daily jogging to keep his body in healthy condition. But even if he will not get another shot at playing basketball again, the important thing for Jaypee now is staying fit and positive for his family.

“Totoo na yung katawan ko hindi na katulad ng dati. Limited na lahat ng movements ko at yung mga puwede ko gawin. Pero thankful ako sa wife ko kasi grabe din yung pinagdaanan namin noon. Sobrang hirap kung wala siya. Siya at yung mga anak ko yung No. 1 na sumuporta sa akin. Sa kanila na lang din ako kumukuha ng lakas ng loob. Palagi kami nagdadasal kasama mga anak ko na sana gumaling ako. Sa prayers lang talaga kami kumukuha ng lakas. Dahil sa kanila kaya kinakaya ko ang problemang ito. Family ko pa rin ang pinaka-importante para sa akin. Sabi nga nila, there’s always life after basketball.”

-Jaypee

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