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Hoop dream comes true

Pastor Renie Rodejo didn’t want to pinch himself because if it was a dream, waking up was not an option. Rodejo, 38, enjoyed the time of his life when late last year, he was sent with another Filipino R. J. Reyes to the Xenia, Ohio, headquarters of Athletes-In-Action (AIA) for a 10-day basketball coaching camp. Not only did Rodejo rub elbows with 21 other coaches from 15 different countries but he also soaked in the wisdom from lecturers like former New Jersey Nets assistant coach Ed Schilling, former Uganda national coach Paul Johnson, Kevin Durant’s spiritual mentor Morris Michalski, long-time Egyptian national coach Samy El Sharony and Luke Simmons, Craig Sladek and Eric Nelson of AIA-USA.

The camp wasn’t Rodejo’s only dream experience. He watched practice sessions of NCAA teams like the University of Dayton, Ohio State University, Indiana University and Purdue University. Rodejo took in an NCAA Division II doubleheader where defending champion West Liberty University crushed Urbana University, 105-66, with its killer full-court press and host Cedarville University lost a 74-72 double overtime thriller to Holy Family University. That wasn’t all.

Rodejo went on to witness an NCAA Division I game where the University of Dayton trounced Arkansas State, 74-61, high school varsity practices of St. Francis de Sales (where NBA cager Antonio Daniels polished his skills) and Park Tudor and two NBA games featuring Indiana against Dallas at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse and Cleveland against Phoenix at the Quicken Loans Arena.

Among the basketball personalities he met were legendary Cedarville University coach Don Callan who recalled playing against Caloy Loyzaga during his missionary visits to Manila and NBA veterans Michael Redd, Greg Oden and Jaren Jackson. Rodejo said Jackson gave his calling card and expressed interest to conduct clinics in the Philippines. He described Oden, the NBA’s first overall draft pick in 2007, as “a gentle giant, very soft-spoken and approachable.” Oden was working out at the Ohio State gym. “We even laid hands and prayed over his injured knee,” said Rodejo. “He told us how much he wanted to make a comeback in the NBA.”

Rodejo was impressed with Redd who was coached spiritually by Michalski throughout his basketball career. “He’s the son of a preacher and had a great testimony as he built a church for his father from his earnings in the NBA,” said Rodejo. “He played three years for Ohio State and led the Buckeyes to the Final Four once. He was an Olympic gold medalist in 2008 and was a deadshot from beyond the arc. In a huddle with us, Michael talked about his faith and journey with the Lord and how much he loves Jesus Christ. He also reminded us of our responsibility as coaches especially with the players whom God is bringing into our lives.”

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Rodejo said he couldn’t believe the experience of watching an NBA game live. “It was an unforgettable experience, a real blessing from God,” he said. “We were seated in Upper Box B at the start but in the second half, someone from the front office went up and spoke with coach Morris and gave us souvenir T-shirts and tickets to ringside so we hurriedly went down and sat at the back of the Pacers bench. The game was a no-contest as Indiana blew it wide open in the fourth quarter and cruised to a 103-83 win. Dirk Nowitzki and Danny Granger didn’t play but I was able to watch Vince Carter, O. J. Mayo, Elton Brand, Cris Kaman and Shawn Marion of the Mavs and George Hill, Paul George, Gerald Green, Roy Hibbert, David West and Lance Stephenson of the Pacers.” Two weeks later, Rodejo was in Section 1, Row 1, Seat 1 for the Cavs game against the Suns in Cleveland.

“My friend Mario Purugganan of Calamba migrated to the US over a decade ago with his wife Liezel and their two children Zel and Joel,” said Rodejo. “I visited him in Cleveland and he treated me to the game. We were literally on the floor beside movie stars and NFL players. The thought sent shivers down my spine. Kyrie Irving and Channing Frye didn’t play but the others did like Goran Dragic, Michael Beasley, Marcin Gortat, Jermaine O’Neal, Luke Walton, Anderson Varejao and Omri Casspi. I stayed at Mario’s house a few days and played pick-up games with his brother-in-law Odie Montano. On my last week, I watched a pair of high school games in Elida, Ohio. It was a different atmosphere. They played eight minutes a quarter without a shot clock. The games were fast-paced and exciting.”

A highlight of the trip was preaching at the International Community Christian Church in Trenton, Michigan, on his last Sunday in the US. “The young pastor Eliezer Sagansay and his staff were very hospitable and served faithfully,” he said. “I was so blessed to speak in their church. I felt I was at my home church and vowed to come back and preach again if ever God permits.”

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Rodejo heads the Divine Love Christian Fellowship Mission church in Balayan and also coaches the elementary and high school basketball teams of St. Paul College, also in Balayan. He plans to form a girls team at St. Paul.

“At the AIA camp, the women’s coach of Kazakhstan and the national coaches of Ukraine and Poland opened my eyes to coaching girls and that’s why I’m taking the challenge,” he said. “When I first came to St. Paul last year, they had no basketball program. Through hard work, determination and training, St. Paul won its first-ever district championship and went all the way to the provincial meet. Before the tournament, school principal Sister Annabel de la Cruz allowed me to bring the team with athletic coordinator Noel Mutuc to Manila for training. My friend B. J. Manalo welcomed us and gave an inspirational talk. He inspired the guys and even prayed for them when we went to the Moro Lorenzo gym. Chris Tiu also inspired the team with a talk. Others who lifted our spirits were AIA national director Totie Andes, AIA director of basketball Potit de Vera and coaches Nash Racela, Eric Gonzales, Josh Reyes and Mike Tolentino.”

Rodejo said his goal is to build a basketball gym and an AIA sports camp in Batangas. “I can use the facilities to invite and train more out-of-school youth and less privileged kids not only from our community but all over the country and build them up to become better persons and productive and God-fearing citizens through the platform of sports particularly basketball,” he said. “With coach Potit’s support, I really want to make a positive influence and make a difference in the lives of the young people who are the future of our nation.” That dream is what drives Rodejo now in his Christian mission.

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