LJ Gonzales, a kid from Isabela, is one of UAAP Season 86’s best
MANILA, Philippines—Far Eastern University’s LJ Gonzales arrived at Araneta Coliseum on Sunday with a sense of joy and excitement.
Before that day’s Game 2 of the UAAP Season 86 Finals, the league officially honored the best players who competed at the highest level of competition.
Gonzales was part of that list as a member of the Mythical Five.
While La Salle’s Michael Phillips and Kevin Quiambao took the floor to throw up practice shots while waiting for the awarding ceremonies, Gonzales sat on the sidelines but he wasn’t watching.
He was deep in his phone. Probably to check and reply to congratulatory messages. From the outside looking in, it looked like Morayta’s longtime floor general was going through something.
That was far from the case, though. Gonzales was just trying to contain himself after realizing a dream of a lifetime.
“It’s my last year and I’m lucky enough to get an award that I could only dream of having before. In this final year, I got this Mythical Five and I’m so happy and proud of myself,” said Gonzales with Inquirer Sports in Filipino.
“I gave it my all in every game and even in practice because if you give your all, you wouldn’t have any regrets by the end of the season. Every game, I really competed and gave my best to the coaches, supporters, my family and the FEU community.”
The Tamaraws couldn’t give Gonzales quite the grand exit. For the second season in a row, FEU failed to make the Final Four with a 3-11 record.
But that didn’t seem to faze the graduating guard at all.
With injuries notwithstanding, Gonzales became FEU’s silver lining in a lackluster year with flashes of 14.79 points, 7.79 rebounds, 3.14 assists and two steals in 14 games played under coach Denok Miranda.
After all, winning isn’t at the top of Gonzales’ list. To be able to play on the biggest collegiate stage and showcase his talents on a wider scale is already something to cherish.
From the province of Isabela to Araneta Coliseum to Mall of Asia Arena to Philsports Arena, Gonzales has shown the public where ambition can push a scrawny 17-year-old dreamer from 2015.
“I was discovered by a mayor in Isabela. He brought me here in Manila and our team played in the Palarong Pambansa in 2015. We went here and played tune-up games against universities from the UAAP and the NCAA. Coach Allan Albano saw me there and recommended me [to FEU] and it started there.”
It was a chance meeting between Gonzales and FEU but since then, he knew where he’d devote his talents to.
“A lot of schools were pursuing me after Palaro but I went straight to FEU.”
After several fruitful seasons with the Tamaraws, Gonzales ended his stint with a realization.
The boyhood dream became a reality. While a men’s basketball championship isn’t on his list of accolades, he got to do something so much bigger: Repay the trust given to him by the people who have been there since day one.
“First of all, this is for my family because they’re always there me. They always tell me to keep going because this is my dream, they’re always there to support. Second, for my teammates and coaches. They’re always there to advise and remind me to give my all because this is my last year.”