The sun was just about to rise on a hot Saturday morning. Breathing heavily, with both hands on his knees, my younger brother Isaac was dead tired.
“Ahia, I’m tired. Why are we doing this?” he asks. I was gathering my thoughts. “Why are we doing things that other people don’t?” he added. At that time, I didn’t have the right things to say to him. The only answer I could come up with was something along the lines of: “We’re preparing you for something special in the future. One day you are going to make it to the UAAP.” After that, I asked him to run another set of sprints and he reluctantly followed.
Back then, I was not even sure if I had told him the right things. I often asked myself if I gave him an achievable dream or held him to a standard that no one could reach. Isaac was not born to be a basketball player, aside from the fact that he had towered over everyone ever since we were kids. Early on, he absolutely had no interest to play such a physical and rough sport. He would rather watch TV or play on his Game Boy. Now, when you see him bang bodies with the likes of Ben Mbala and Papi Sarr, it is such a far cry from the kid who shied away from contact.
His development as a basketball player was years in the making. Not only did he need to immerse himself completely in the game, but more importantly, he needed to be patient with the results. We all wanted results instantaneously. However, we often lost sight of the journey and just focused on the destination.
Now, what you see Isaac do inside the basketball court was planned. The way he finishes high around the basket, using both hands, over the outstretched arms of his defenders was engrained in him early on.
'Not only did he need to immerse himself completely in the game, but more importantly, he needed to be patient with the results'
When Isaac was a part of the RP Youth U16 national team under coach Olsen Racela, it was a proud moment in his basketball career. This was also where things started moving in the right direction. Here he was mentioned in the same breath as some of the best players in his class, a huge confidence booster. Here he saw that he could hang with the big boys and that he could actually play the game at a higher level.
However, at that time, I admit I was jealous. During my 2nd year of high school, I was still the better basketball player. And although I knew that my skills were not up to par with players in the national team, I was more certain that my brother could not hang, let alone play, with the likes of them.
Frustrated, I shared with my parents how I felt—my “it’s not fair” rants taking over our conversations. My parents, being understanding, helped me realize that sometimes things were beyond my control and that amidst everything that was going on, I needed to be happy for Isaac because after all, he is my brother. This led to a shift in the way I treated him. Although I was very much involved in his so-called basketball career, I made sure I was around him more and made that conscious decision to help him be the best basketball player that he could be.
Yes, I pushed Isaac to work harder and to play better. We started conducting 6AM workouts on weekends, on top of working out before and after practice, to polish his skills and develop a variety of moves that he could use come game time. I can’t take all the credit—my younger brother was and is a willing listener. He picked up on the stuff I was teaching him quickly and remembered it all down to the tiniest detail.
This was right around the time when we started planning for college. We felt that my brother could possibly make it into the UAAP and play for a championship-caliber team, making a difference in the process of doing so. The dream seemed bleak at that time, but we both agreed to go for it not for bragging rights, but more importantly to show everyone who doubted him that it was possible.
When I entered college, I was overwhelmed with the athleticism, strength, and the skill level of the players there. All the more, I said, I needed to prepare him for the next level—to make his dream a reality. As time passed, he became more mature and slowly learned to love the game. He was now the one initiating morning workouts. He was the one asking for my opinion on his game, working out which areas he could still improve on. Most importantly, he started to own up to his poor performance instead of blaming it on factors he had no control over.
'We would discuss the NBA, dissecting the latest trade deals and how our favorite teams were playing. Instead of observing highlights, we now started analyzing the tendencies of the best players so we could replicate their moves on the court'
Slowly, Isaac learned to internalize his love for the game of basketball in other ways. Yes, he was still very much the happy-go-lucky kid, but now he took the game more seriously. We would discuss the NBA, dissecting the latest trade deals and how our favorite teams were playing. Instead of observing highlights, we now started analyzing the tendencies of the best players so we could replicate their moves on the court. We both diligently studied the game so that we could both grow as basketball players.
Now, basketball is all we talk about. Sometimes, it gets redundant, but it is satisfying to see how much he has developed an adoration for the sport. Now that I'm working, I don’t get to see him as often, nor do I get to catch all his practices and games. It's rewarding to see some of the stuff that he’s able to do on the hardwood—shoot threes, throw beautiful backdoor passes, and finish around taller and more athletic players.
You see, for my younger brother, there was a perfect time for everything. Early on, it was tough to stay patient and realize where this was all going. It was tough to get up early in the morning for those 6AM workouts. It was difficult to ride the bench when you know in your heart that you could have made a difference. Isaac’s patience and perseverance was rewarded, yes, but more importantly he was always ready whenever opportunity came knocking at his door.
He has been through a lot of ups and downs. From not playing a single minute and having untimely injuries, to always sinking those big shots when it mattered the most. His resilience is something to be proud of, but more importantly, his commitment to excellence—and doing it the right way—is even more remarkable. It would have been easier to take the easy way out or to be satisfied with the team practices the school offered. However, he saw that he needed to work harder to achieve his dreams and goals and this is ultimately what pushed him to go on when others would have quit.
The reason I think Isaac remains stoic after making every big play lies in the fact that he's connected to his roots. He remembers how difficult it was in the start, crucial moments when he didn’t make the cut or was too slow to finish running a drill. Although the lights shine a bit brighter now, and every little action he does seems noticeable, he understands that hard work and trusting the process are what led him to where he is right now. For someone who once never understood the importance of our early morning practices and the sweat that needed to be put in during his younger days, he now sees the fruits of his labor slowly paying off. Isaac’s rapid ascent has been well documented, but honestly, I’m more excited for what’s to come. Deep inside of me, there is this sense of pride whenever I see him don the Blue and White. He is living out my dream.