Baby Falcon in a cage
Florencio “Encho” Serrano learned how tough life can be at an early age. But the Adamson juniors basketball star still felt like a needle pierced his heart when he was told he could no longer play for the Baby Falcons in UAAP Season 79.
Late in the second round of the high school basketball tournament last January, the Baby Falcons were playing the University of Santo Tomas Tiger Cubs at Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan when Serrano, the frontrunner in the the Most Valuable Player race in the juniors division and the spearhead of Adamson’s best season in years, learned about his fate.
“I was preparing to sub into the game when coach Goldwin (Monteverde) told me I couldn’t play,” Serrano recalls in Filipino.
The Baby Falcons ended up winning the game to improve to 12-1, but Serrano was reduced to tears as news broke that he had been declared ineligible to play for the season. Worse, the 11 wins the pacesetting Baby Falcons had registered were also forfeited since Serrano played in those games, ending Adamson’s title hopes.
The UAAP board cited the school’s failure to submit the complete high school records of Serrano, who had dropped out of St. Vincent’s Academy in Apalit, Pampanga, in Grade 7 before transferring to Mapua and later, to Adamson. Curiously, the records from St. Vincent were not submitted to the UAAP board.
Adamson appealed, but the league stood pat in its decision and instead blamed officials of the school for not following the rules after failing to submit a correct and signed Varsity Athletes Information System to the league.
The school later secured a temporary restraining order (TRO) from a Regional Trial Court in Manila, but the league chose to ignore it and pushed through with the tournament, won by Far Eastern University-Diliman at the expense of National University.
Monteverde, in his fourth season at the helm of the Baby Falcons, insists that Adamson had no intention to break the rules, saying they only submitted documents that were given to them by Mapua.
Throughout the controversy, Serrano battled to keep his emotions in check. He found strength from his teammates and Monteverde. “The team embraced Encho,” Monteverde says. “This is a very tight-knit team. This was their true test and they never let Encho feel bad about what happened, although they also suffered because all their hard work came to nothing.”
“We’re a family in this team and I felt that more during that most difficult time,” says Serrano, who was in tears as he sang the school hymn in Adamson’s final game of the season—a win over title contender National U.
“Coach told us there are just things beyond our control,” Serrano says. “But how we react is something we can control. I kept that in mind.”
But if there’s someone who’s strong enough to deal with life’s punches, it’s Serrano, who, at 17, has experienced being a provider for his two siblings.
It’s easy to understand why Serrano already has a muscular and chiseled figure even as a teenager. When he dropped out of Grade 7 when he was 14, Serrano worked in construction six days a week for four months, putting his education and his love for basketball on hold. Later that year, he took another job as a tricycle driver in Apalit to help ends meet for his family. He also worked as a porter for a steel company.
“I insisted on working,” says Serrano. “My older sister was about to enter college and our parents could not support the two of us studying, so I made that decision to sacrifice for the family. I told them I can wait. But eventually, I wanted to move to Manila so I could play basketball.”
Long before that, however, Serrano was already making his mark on the hardcourt in Sitio San Juan.
“They called me HB, short for HanapBuhay,” Serrano says with a laugh. “We would bet on our games and I used my winnings to buy food and help out my family.”
Serrano’s parents are separated and he lived with his grandmother at that time. Growing up, Serrano looked up to Marc Pingris, the energetic Gilas Pilipinas forward. Pampanga-born cager Calvin Abueva is also another player whom Serrano patterns his game after. Serrano recalls playing with Abueva in a “Ligang Labas” game a few years ago in San Juan. “Still one of the most memorable moments of my life,” says Serrano, who turns 18 in September.
The first time Monteverde saw Serrano play for Mapua in one of the pre-season games, he was impressed. “He was very explosive and he has shown maturity in his game,” says Monteverde, who was then rebuilding the Adamson program after the graduation of the majority of the players in the team that reached the UAAP Final Four in Season 77.
As soon as Serrano moved to the San Marcelino campus, he began showing the skills that made him a star back in Sitio San Juan.
“As a player he is very competitive on both ends, and even in scrimmages he doesn’t want to lose,” Monteverde says. “As a person he is laid-back and willing to adjust and learn the system. He gives us energy, but he’s going to have to work on his skills when he plays the wing position later in his career.”
Monteverde knows Serrano won’t allow the controversy to define his budding career: “He didn’t do anything wrong. He just really wants to play and help the team win a championship.”
Serrano, who dreams of making the PBA, knows he is far from the player he wants to be. But these trials that he’s faced early in his life has equipped him to deal with challenges that will come his way.
“I have moved on,” he says. “I learned to be strong. I want to give Adamson a championship. That’s the only way I can give back for all the support they’ve given me.”
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