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Who would ever think that we’d get on GMAnews.tv? We went to Rizal Memorial to watch a little football and cheer on the Philippine Azkals. We made a banner…. And then, this. Hahaha! Totally cray! Very overwhelming! I was always wishing to be on the big screen when I watched UAAP games, but this one’s waaaaay better. Legendary. Real epic. Thank God for Ysa’s idea. Thank God Marga gave the photog her email. Thank God I had paper. Again, this is like the craziest thing that’s ever happened to me. I hope I get to be on this website again in the coming years. And hopefully not for the wrong reasons ;)

UAAP Basketball: Former Archer Nico Elorde finds the grass greener in Katipunan

In the summer of 2011, homegrown Green Archer Nico Elorde, grandson of the legendary boxer Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, was trying to decide whether he should stay in La Salle or move elsewhere.

As a former De La Salle Zobel Junior Archer, it had always been his dream to play for the Taft squad. But with the addition of more guards on the roster, he found himself being pushed into the background until he was barely in the lineup.

Elorde was part of the Zobel squad that bagged a UAAP Juniors championship, and was the captain in his senior year. He knew he deserved more than what he was getting. And with other schools opening their doors to him, he made the decision that could change his life – ditch the green jersey to become an Ateneo Blue Eagle.

With three veteran guards, Emman Monfort, Kirk Long and Bacon Austria, graduating from Ateneo, the Katipunan squad is in need of a reliable back-up to last year’s Rookie-of-the-Year Kiefer Ravena and the expected starter Juami Tiongson. But his coach says he could exceed expectations. 

“He’s a pretty good player and he can step in to take the place of Emman [Monfort],” says Ateneo head coach Norman Black.

This season, Nico will debut for the Eagles and join the archrivals he fought so hard to beat for eight years.

Boxing genes

Elorde has the boxing genes within his system, thanks to his lolo. At six-years-old, he was already training and learning basic boxing moves.

“Lumaki ako na ang environment ko puro boxers. Pero we were never pressured by our parents to go into boxing. Like ako, nagta-training lang ako pero hindi naman talaga ako nag-competitive boxing,” he says.

His older brothers Bai and Mig though turned out to be professional boxers, with Bai once making an appearance on the undercard for Manny Pacquiao.

“Para maiba naman”

Given Elorde’s background, it’s a wonder he got enticed by another sport.

“Para maiba naman. Mga kuya ko boxers na pareho eh,” the 20-year-old explains.

Not all is lost though as he still gets to use some of his boxing moves, only discreetly.

“Magulang ako maglaro,” he laughs.

Elorde started playing basketball at seven with his brothers as his first mentors. He joined the De La Salle Zobel Junior Archers in grade four, and continued until high school.

When he was a sophomore, Zobel won the UAAP championship over Ateneo High School, as a back-up guard to future UST Growling Tiger Jeric Fortuna. However, the squad was unable to defend their title in 2008, despite a twice-to-beat advantage in the semifinals, and then in his senior year, Ateneo returned for payback, and won the Juniors title in three games.

“Should I stay or should I go?”

After high school, Elorde wasn’t guaranteed a sure spot in the Green Archers, so he needed a back-up plan. Luckily, Ateneo also expressed interest in recruiting him, so he was training in both schools the summer before college.

“Di ko pa kasi alam kung san ko talaga gusto,” he said.

The greenie in him, being a Zobel student since prep, ultimately won.

“Dream ko talaga na makapaglaro for La Salle since bata pa ako, dun na ko nag-aaral. Buong familyko pa from La Salle. Tsaka andun yung teammates ko before like Simon [Atkins]. I felt na tutulungan nila ko kung dun ako maglalaro,” he explains.

Disappointing season

Elorde played one full season in La Salle, which didn’t go too well.

DLSU was celebrating its centennial anniversary in 2011 so the 2010 squad was hard-pressed to win the UAAP title. Unfortunately, they had to settle for fourth place and watch Ateneo run away with their third crown.

“A lot of people were disappointed because they really wanted the championship for the centennial,” he retells.

Personally, it also wasn’t a good season for him. Former coach Dindo Pumaren was fond of guards to the point that they took up half the lineup. In the backcourt, there was Atkins, Luigi Dela Paz, Almond Vosotros and Joel Tolentino who has since left for the CSB Blazers. He saw action in just eight games, averaging 2.25 points, 0.88 rebounds, and 1.13 assists in just 6.5 minutes of play.

“Ang daming guards. Challenged ako. Every day I had to prove that I was the better guard,” says Elorde.

Jumping ship to Ateneo

The off-season of 2011 presented more challenges to Elorde.  Under-18 National Team standout Dan Sara was coming in and LA Revilla returned from a medical condition, further adding to a crowded guard rotation. Elorde couldn’t help but feel that he was no longer needed.

“Ang gulo na kasi eh. Feel ko madami nang guards, recruit pa rin nang recruit ng guards. So yung mga dati nang players, natatambak lang,” he sighs.

The last straw though was not being included in the team’s off-season training in the United States. Elorde went abroad with the team during his rookie season in 2010, so getting left out the following year seemed like nothing but a demotion.

“Fifteen yung nasa US; five pa kaming naiwan dito sa Pilipinas fighting for one last spot. Kung ma-lineup ako, pang-16 din. Wala ka na talagang chance to play,” he says. (Editor’s note: Aside from Elorde, the other four who did not make the US trip were Aiki Herrera, Martin Reyes, Louie Vigil, and Michael Pate. The latter two transferred to UST and CSB, respectively. Martin Reyes wound up getting the final Team A roster spot, while Herrera was placed on Team B).

With his mind made up to leave, his teammates and coaches tried to make him stay.

“The coaches told me wag muna akong umalis. Di pa naman daw sure kung mala-lineup lahat ng sinama sa US,” he recalls.

Of course, the Elordes still wanted a good school, so Ateneo was a reasonable choice. It definitely helped that he was immediately sought out by Blue Eagles team manager Paolo Trillo. Shedding the green and adopting the blue, Elorde started training in Katipunan again last June.

Back to square one

While the training is lighter in Ateneo – in La Salle they could’ve been training for a marathon – it took a lot of adjustments. New system, new plays, new teammates – he was back to square one.

“Nung unang training ko ulit sa Ateneo, nasa isang tabi lang ako. Di ko kasi alam kung anong gagawin ko. Nahihiya pa ko sa kanila,” he recalls, adding the fact that he wasn’t just a new player; he was a new player from the archrivals.

The only person he knew was Gwyne Capacio, a former Zobel teammate. But the rest of the Eagles didn’t give him a hard time. He didn’t even go through the usual “taga-buhat” initiation.

“Yung teammates winelcome na agad ako. Di ko in-expect yon,” he shares.

He also had to get used to the campus. In La Salle, they had high-rise buildings that were squeezed together. In Ateneo, there are more trees and open spaces, with buildings that rarely crack more than four floors.

“Ang ganda ng campus. Pero yung school, mas mahirap. Mas madami akong units,” he says.

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Nico Elorde found it weird at first to don the blue and white. But now he feels like he belongs.

“Di sanay sa blue”

“Nung first time ko magsuot ng jersey na blue, di talaga ako sanay. Nung first time ko din bumili ng sapatos na blue, ang weird ng feeling. Pati nga buong family ko di sanay sa blue kasi solid talaga kaming La Salle,” shares Elorde.

While he has already competed in tournaments with Ateneo’s Team B, he will be returning to the main stage for the first time in the Fil-Oil Pre-Season League. That will also be his first time playing against La Salle – ever.

“Di ko alam kung anong mangyayari don. Malamang maninibago ako. Sigurado may mga boo,” he imagines, probably already prepared to be a modern-day BJ Manalo. “Bahala na, laro lang ako.”

Indeed he will get the minutes he craved as three veteran guards graduated from the Blue Eagles after last season. Coupled ironically with the defection of recruit Mark Tallo to Taft, Elorde could be the first guard off the bench, backing up either Juami Tiongson or reigning Rookie of the Year Kiefer Ravena. A scintillating summer performance could even see him leap-frogging into a starting role at the point.

“Di ko naman kailangan umi-score. I just need to lead the team and be consistent,” he says.

Elorde fits Black’s system well. He’s a tough-nosed, no-nonsense point guard who can run the show, hit open shots, and most importantly, stick like glue on his counterpart and shade him from baseline to baseline. Even in the scraps of playing time he received as an Archer, it was that willingness to defend that made him stand out.

Sports analyst Mico Halili likes the fit with Ateneo, noting, “Nico has always been a fighter. It’s in his DNA. Even back in La Salle, he was always a tough player. He fits Ateneo’s system nicely because he’s willing to play tough defense. Plus Nico has something to prove.”

But what if La Salle offers to take him back in the future?

“Di na,” Elorde says, with a shake of his head.

“Na-realize ko na rin na before, I was just forcing myself to go to La Salle even if I knew na ang dami nang guards don. You’ll come to a point na kahit loyal ka sa school mo, iisipin mo na din yung futuremo,” he ends. – AMD, GMA News