03 November 2016

Rookie Watch: Ed Daquioag

Ed Daquioag
The Meralco Bolts just selected Eduardo Daquioag from the 'special draft' held last 30 October at the Robinsons Midtown mall in Ermita, Manila. His selection made a lot of sense if his background is analyzed.

Five years ago, almost no one knew who Daquioag was much more pronounce his name properly. But his innocent curiosity is a perfect allegory to Daquioag’s odyssey in the UAAP. From an obscure newcomer, his meteoric rise this Season 78 has made him one of the most recognizable names in the league.

And after being picked by Meralco, everyone is excited on how his partnership with Rookie of the Year (RoY) Chris Newsome would pan out at the back court.

The 24 year-old player was born in Dingras, Ilocos Norte. A son of a carpenter and a housewife, he grew up in a modest household in a non-descript town. At a young age, he knew the value of hard work.

He was discovered in the Ilocos Regional Athletic Association in his third year in high school while playing for Ilocos Norte College of Arts and Trades. But it was all by accident.

The Growling Tigers coaching staff, headed by Pido Jarencio and then-assistant coach Beaujing Acot, traveled 500 kilometers up north to scout Daquioag’s teammate, Jeoff Javillonar, a 14-year-old with heaps of potential. After watching him play, the UST brain trust was convinced to recruit when he finishes high school. But his unassuming teammate made an impression too.

"Dapat talaga si Javillonar lang kukunin nila. Kaso nakita nila ko na masipag maglaro kaya kinausap na rin ako," said Daquioag.

Acot brought Javillonar and Daquioag to Benedictine International School, where he was the head coach. There, they teamed up with the Tigersharks’ top gunner, Clark Bautista. They won titles in various tournaments in the country, including the National Students Basketball Championship in Cebu in 2008. The sweet-shooting Bautista was named MVP, while Daquioag was included in the Mythical Five.

A year later, however, the school’s basketball program was dissolved, putting the players in limbo. Luckily, Acot was hired by Rizal Technological University’s (RTU) juniors team. Again, he brought with him Daquioag and Javillonar, while Bautista joined UST as a college freshman.

While at RTU, Javillonar was named to the RP Youth Team under Eric Altamirano. When he graduated, Altamirano convinced him to move to National University (NU), where he was newly appointed as head coach. It put to waste UST’s investments. In contrast, college teams weren’t exactly tussling to get the unheard-of Daquioag. He tried to follow his longtime teammate by trying out for the Bulldogs but he was shown the door.

"Parang hindi naman nila ako pinapansin nun," said Daquioag. "Kaya nag-tryout ako sa UST. Walk-in lang ako nun kasi open (tryouts)."

But by then, Acot was no longer part of the Growling Tigers after having a personal spat with Jarencio. Daquioag no longer had a confidant and a backer who could strongly vouch for him. Jarencio knew him, but the mercurial mentor was still unsure about the reed-thin kid that caught his eye in Ilocos Norte. So, as Daquioag learned from his hard-knock upbringing, good ol’ hard work never fails.

"Siguro nakita nila 'yung athleticism ko tsaka sipag kaya nakuha ko. Ako rin kasi lagi bumabantay kay Jeric Teng nun," said Daquioag, who is playfully called "Father" in the Growling Tigers' lair.

"Nung unang pasok ko kasi sa Benedictine, sobrang laki ng polo ko. Sabi ni Tata (Bautista), para akong pari. Kaya tinawag niya kong 'Father,' hanggang sa (nadala na sa UST)," shared the high-leaping guard.

After his surprisingly impressive UAAP debut against UE, Daquioag spiraled to anonymity anew. Was it simply a case of beginner’s luck? He failed to duplicate his maiden performance and found himself glued to the bench for most of his rookie season.

"Hindi naman ako kabado nun, 'yung confidence ko nung high school, dinala ko sa UST. Gusto ko magpakilala agad. Kaso hindi ko napagpatuloy. Ang pangit na ng mga sunod na laro ko. Mga lay-up, hindi ko ma-shoot," said Daquioag.

Just when he thought things couldn’t get any worse, it did.

In the summer of his second year, he complained about a recurring tonsillitis. When he had it diagnosed, it was found out that he had rheumatic fever. It’s a rare but potentially life-threatening disease caused by bacteria in the throat.

"Yung bacteria, kumalat na sa dugo ko. Yung normal na bilang ng anti-streptolysin O (a form of antibody) ng isang tao is 0 to 200. Yung akin, 800," said Daquioag.

From May to July, it was a procession to the hospital for a series of tests. He spent more time in the doctor’s office than on the basketball court. His delicate condition affected his training and delayed his improvement. Eventually, he was ordered to sit out his entire sophomore season.

"Sobrang nangamba ko nun! Inisip ko kung tapos na ba ‘yung career ko. Nagdasal ako sa lahat ng simbahan. Nag-Manaoag ako, Pampanga, St. Pio sa Libis, Baclaran, Quiapo," bared Daquioag.

It was a crushing blow to a young kid with high hopes and far-reaching dreams. It caught him by surprise like an intercepted pass. He was always the healthy one with his toned physique and limitless energy.

"Tinanggap ko na lang. Mahirap ipilit kasi mas importante nga naman 'yung health ko," said Daquioag. "Pero tuwing pinapanood ko sila (UST) tapos ako nakaupo lang, naiinggit ako. Inisip ko na lang na may reason lahat ng bagay."

Whatever it was—his church-hopping or modern medicine—Daquioag’s condition stabilized in a year. Although a longer recuperation period was ideal, his resolve to get back on the court couldn’t be sidelined. Also, it became a now-or-never situation.

"Kapag hindi kasi ako maglalaro, mawawala na scholarship ko. Hindi rin ako makaka-aral. (‘Yung desisyon), nauwi sa ‘pangarap ko o wala?’ Kaya sinugal ko na," said Daquioag.

When he returned, he displayed the same athleticism and quickness. But he was mostly erratic, usually earning the ire of the cantankerous Jarencio, who minces his words with a dull butter knife.

"Si Coach Pido, mumurahin ka talaga. Kapag malambot ka, wala ka," said Daquioag. "Kapag na-discourage ako, walang mangyayari sa’kin. Hindi ako puwede mag-quit kasi pangarap ko ‘to eh."

In his third year, he became a key rotation player for the Growling Tigers as the resident wing defender, while contributing sporadically on offense. His extended playing time gave him confidence and validation. He had his fair share of moments in UST’s second straight finals appearance. But the thing he remembers the most is how painful the defeats were, including the one in 2012.

"Matalo ka na sa eliminations, huwag lang sa finals. Hindi ka naman nagpa-practice para lang maging runner-up," said Daquioag.

Two years ago was supposed to be his coming-out party but a left ankle injury sidetracked him. He was regrettably inconsistent. He would score in double figures in one game then struggle horribly in the next. UST stumbled out of the Final Four with an underachieving 5-9 record.

In his final year with the svchool, with a clean bill of health, heavy playing time, and a skyrocketing confidence, Daquioag has shown his true mettle. To say that he’s playing well is an understatement. Out of nowhere—much like his first UAAP game — he's become one of the leading MVP candidates with norms of 20.5 PPG (tied for second in the league), 3.8 RPG and 1.0 SPG. Really, who saw this coming?

"Hindi ko in-expect na magiging ganito performance ko. Ang iniisip ko lang naman, go for the win every game. Mataas lang confidence ko tsaka ayoko sayangin ‘yung opportunity," said Daquioag.

The 6-foot-1 Daquioag is a blue-collar type, who plays hard on both ends. He can penetrate to the lane with his deceivingly strong body. He's a harbinger of punishment in the open court. He's a good rebounder for his size with his leaping ability and a fantastic on-ball defender with his long limbs.

He, however, has to learn to be more of a playmaker (only 1.5 APG) to become a more efficient player. Also, he needs to develop a consistent outside shot.

"Isa talaga siya sa mga inaasahan sa team. Mataas ang confidence niya. He just needs to improve every day. Huwag siya ma-satisfy," said UST head coach Bong Dela Cruz.

It has been quite a story for Daquioag. From an inconspicuous start to a life-threatening illness to a memorable final season. If everything falls into place, Daquiaog would play good music at the back court with Newsome, Joseph Yeo, Baser Amer, Jimmy Alapag and Jonathan Uyloan.

Daquioag said Meralco head coach Norman Black already gave him an idea what his role would be as part of the Bolts.

"Sabi naman niya [Black] puwede kaming pagsabayin ni Newsome," said Daquioag Sunday at Robinsons Place Manila. "Ang tanong na lang ay kung sino ang mag uno [point guard] and mag dos [shooting guard]."

"Iyon na lang ang I-work out namin sa practice."

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