In the first of our exclusive interviews with Filipino athletes, Dribble Media’s ZerJosh Serrano had the opportunity to interview the Manalang brothers as they talk about supporting each other and persevering until they reach their basketball ambitions.
Original photos from Gelay Davocol/Tiebreaker Times & Chi Lopez
Wake up at 5 in the morning while the whole city is still dreaming about their lofty goals. Lace up the overworked sneakers, grab an overused basketball, and put up hundreds of shots on the nearby court with the sun still rising in the background. Play tough 5-on-5 pick-up games for two hours with just the symbolic “iced tubig” on the line. Return home to eat a much-deserved hearty breakfast, rest up for several minutes, and then go back to the basketball court to work on the craft.
This was how Philip and Peter Manalang spent their summer mornings when they were still a pair of young boys developing a fiery passion for the game. Playing basketball for a living wasn’t even at their minds back then. For the hundreds of kids playing in a particular barangay or village basketball court, just one or even none of them will make it to the big leagues.
Yet, it’s not about luck that the Manalang brothers reached the level where they are right now. After becoming a household name for the University of the East Red Warriors in the UAAP, Philip went on to play in the MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League), where his Kuya Peter is also balling out.
Through a Zoom call, Dribble Media had the privilege to talk to Philip and Peter as they discussed the origins of their basketball journey and how they deal with the pressure that comes with it. The 20-minute long conversation started with how they are coping with the COVID-19 outbreak and how they took it upon themselves to reach out and help in the community.
Peter: As a player ngayon, wala nang income kasi tapos na yung contract ko. So nagset ako ng small business on food (Quarant-EATS). Lahat ng income namin dito ko lang kinukuha ngayon.
Philip: Sa community, may mga nakita ako na mga homeless. Sympre may konting bonus kami and monthly allowance, so nagdecide ako na magbigay ng relief goods especially dito sa QC na madaming cases.
The two point guards also took us back to the difficult, narrow basketball road they willingly went through. Peter said that ever since he was 9 years old and Philip was 7, they were referred to in Filipino terms as “mga taong court.” They constantly worked on their game on the court, especially during the summer when they would not go home until it gets really dark at night and it’s impossible for them to see the hoop.
But even though they continued to support each other’s game, the Manalang brothers blazed separate trails towards the big leagues. Philip, who played high school basketball for the National University (NU), was more of a blue-chip recruit between the two. Philip says that an opportunity presented by a prominent Filipino coach opened the doors for him to continue playing collegiate hoops in the UAAP.
Philip: Galing ako NU nung high school. After graduation, madami naman na teams na kumukuha sakin, malalaking school din. Sabi ko nung una, kung saan ako magagamit and kung saan mas babagay yung laro ko. Sakto kumausap sakin si (UE) coach Derrick Pumaren. Sabi niya ‘wala na kaming point guard. Bagay yung laro mo dito kasi mabilis at madepensa ka.’
On the other hand, Peter’s road towards a basketball career had a more dramatic twist. The older Manalang brother had his own family at the young age of 17, and basketball took a backseat as he had to focus on putting food on the table and taking care of his wife and child.
But as he saw Philip and their youngest brother Paul thriving in the UAAP, Peter became more inspired to further grow in the game that he loves the most. Peter never went on to play in the biggest amateur basketball stage in the country, but he emphasized that he has no regrets.
Peter: No regrets, actually mas thankful ako. Nakatapos ako high school nang 15 years old ako so sobrang bata ako noon. Then maaga ako nagkaanak, 17 years old ako. So wala na talaga, hindi na ako maglalaro noon. Tapos yun si Philip and Paul naglaro sa UAAP so nainspire ako na baka kaya ko pa. Pagbalik ko naman, nakuha ako sa De Ocampo Memorial College then dun ko na tinapos yung collegiate playing years ko. Ngayon, umakyat na ko sa MPBL. So thankful pa rin ako at di ako nagsisisi na hindi nakalaro sa UAAP.
Did Peter ever become envious that Philip entered the UAAP? No, not a chance. If there’s anything that Peter felt, it would be pure joy. There was never a sibling rivalry between the two hoopers. Peter reiterated that it has been their priority to lift each other up, rather than pulling one another down to the ground.
Peter: Mas inuuna namin magtulungan. Sabay kami magtraining kapag offseason. Kahit mas matanda ako, kapag may workout siya, ako yung sumusunod sa kanya para parehas kami mag-improve. So para sa akin, hndi siya matatawag na rivalry.
Philip echoed his brother’s sentiment, and even had heaps of praises for Peter. The former UE playmaker points out to his kuya’s open-minded mentality and his willingness to listen.
Philip: Kahit naman mas matanda sa akin si kuya, I also share yung experience ko sa kanya. Kaya bilib din ako sa kanya and kaya nag-iimprove siya kasi nakikinig siya sa amin. Usually kapag mas matanda ka, mapride ka pero siya nakikinig talaga. Tapos kung ano din yung nalalaman niya, binibigay niya sa amin, not only inside the court but also outside of it.
Now that they are in the big leagues, there’s always the pressure to perform. Peter recently played for the Bicol Volcanoes, an MPBL team which also boasts ex-PBA cagers Ronjay Buenafe and Alex Nuyles. On the flipside, Philip played for UE, a UAAP school that produced historically great stars like Robert Jaworski, James Yap and Paul Lee.
Photo by Nicks Hernandez
But instead of being pressured, both of them look at it as a blessing.
Peter: Yung team (Bicol) namin halo ng veterans at batang players. Kaya ung mga veterans naging mentor namin. Every practice, madami kami natututunan kasi yung experience nila sobrang taas na. Lalo na kay Kuya Ronjay kasi talagang star player ng PBA tapos naging teammate mo.
Philip: Wala naman pressure lalo si Kuya Paul minsan pumupunta sa practice para magbigay ng madaming advice. Walang pressure noon kasi step-by-step yung mentality ko. Kung ano lang yung pinapagawa ng coach sa amin, yun ang laro ko.
As for critics and haters on and off the court, Philip doesn’t mind at all. Philip gave us quite a lesson on how to deal with people who don’t believe in your success.
Philip: Ang daming bashers sa UAAP lalo na noon na puro talo kami sa UE. Madaming ‘di maganda na nasasabi. Pero hindi ko sila pinapansin kasi the more na papansinin mo, papasok sa ulo mo. Then ikaw magkakaroon ka na ng doubts at pati laro mo maaapektuhan. Hinahayaan lang namin sila kasi hindi nila alam totoong nangyayari sa team. ‘Di nila alam totoong nangyayari sayo as a person. ‘Di nila nakikita yung ginagawa mo araw-araw, yung hardwork mo. Kaya para sakin, gawin mo silang motivation.
Maintaining one’s poise through pressure and harsh criticisms is just one of the many challenges that athletes face on a daily basis. As for their basketball plans moving forward, Peter will be focusing on his MPBL stint, with the hope that a team will acquire him next season.
Philip, who last played for Basilan Steele-Jumbo Plastic after finishing his playing years in UE, revealed that he is indeed aiming to be selected in the next PBA Draft. When asked which PBA team they would want to play for, they didn’t even think for a second before answering. Both Manalang brothers have the Never-Say-Die manta running on their veins as they have been Ginebra fans from the very start.
For their advice for young aspiring hoopers out there, Peter and Philip have one equation in mind: Faith + Hardwork = Success.
Peter: Unang una, huwag kalimutan magdasal araw-araw kasi si God talaga yung mag-guide sa atin. Then yung mga sumikat na player, wala naman ibang secret yan kundi hardwork lang.
Philip: Huwag nila kakalimutan na yung strength and power natin nagmumula kay God. Yung talent natin, gift ni God para sa atin yan. And once na kumatok sa inyo yung opportunity- i-grab na ninyo. ‘Di natin masasabi kung hanggang kailan yung career natin sa basketball. Kaya every single day, even sa practice, i-treat natin na last day na natin naglalaro.
Even if luck did play a part in their success, it’s not even comparable to the amount of work and dedication that Philip and Peter have put in. It’s about realizing your talent, growing it through sheer hardwork, and maintaining that same energy day in and day out. It’s difficult, but there will never be an easy path towards success.