Is Jiovani Jalalon the next Jayson Castro?
Rick Olivares ( - August 15, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines -- The Arellano University Chiefs sprung their trapping defense. All match long, the College of Saint Benilde Blazers had this withered look about them. They turned the ball over 27 times with 3/4 of those miscues courtesy of the Chiefs’ press.

Late in the third period, Blazers forward Fons Saavedra lost the ball to the pressure applied by Jiovani Jalalon and his teammate Michael Salado. Scooping up the leather, Jalalon surveyed the options — there were three Blazers in the paint. No problem. He drove, ditched opposite number Gerard Castor with a nasty crossover then knifed right through the other two Blazers for a layup. The fans, the media men covering the game, and even the bouncers all applauded or shook their heads in disbelief. The quicksilver of a point guard carved up CSB’s defense with canny skill and deft moves.

Shades of a man called “the Blur?"

“Isang karangalan na maihambing kay Jayson Castro kasi isa siya sa mga idol ko,” said Jalalon who while pleased with the comparison made a modest riposte. “Pero malayo pa tayo. Marami pa tayong matutunan.”

The Mapua Cardinals' do-it-all forward Josan Nimes agrees with the comparison. “They have very similar games. No doubt he could be (like Castro). Jio’s explosive, strong, and has effortless speed. He goes to the bucket strong. And he is pesky as well on defense.”

Added former Letran point guard Kevin Alas who himself is no slouch in the speed and derring do department: “It is hard to compare for now because of Kuya Jayson’s many achievements — best point guard in Asia and multiple Best Player of the Conference awards. But Jio’s style of play is similar. I like the way he plays and sets up his teammates."

The five-foot-ten Jalalon tallied 13 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals versus 3 turnovers in leading the Chiefs to a win over CSB that arrested a two-match slide.

At 5-3, the Chiefs will close out the first round of NCAA play next week with a game against San Beda who ran them to the ground in the Finals of the previous campaign. “Learning experience para sa amin,” noted Jalalon who is in his penultimate year of eligibility with the Chiefs. “Pero masakit yung talo kasi gusto namin din manalo lalo na para kila Pinto, Prince (Caperal), and Keith (Agovida) na nag-graduate na. Grabe rin yung dinaanan naming hirap para makarating kami sa contender status."

Like his idol Castro who led Philippine Christian University from out of the cellar and all the way to a NCAA title (of course, he also got a lot of help from teammates Gabby Espinas and Beau Belga), Jalalon hopes that with the experience of being in the finals plus his national team exposure, he can help tow the Chiefs to another finals berth and a crack at the NCAA title.

It has been a whirlwind 12 months for the 22-year old player out of Cagayan De Oro. Jalalon finally found his groove with the Chiefs last season under then first-year head coach Jerry Codinera. And despite playing behind the more celebrated playmaker Nard Pinto, Jalalon was named the league’s Most Improved Player and nabbed a precious spot on Tab Baldwin’s Sinag team that won the gold medal in the last Southeast Asian Games last June.

“Thankful ako sa experience na yun,” glowed Jiovani about the national team experience as he landed a spot over other more celebrated names like Roi Sumang and Mike Tolomia. “Minsan nagtatanong ako kung nangyari ba talaga yun. Hindi ko akalain na pipiliin ako ni Coach Tab. Doon ko nakita na marami pa akong kailangan matutunan. I learned a lot from Coach Tab, Coach Jimmy (Alapag), at sa ibang coaches and players. Ina-apply ko siya ngayon sa season na ‘to. Sana talaga manalo kami. Kailangan i-trabaho namin yan.”

The road to a NCAA title is fraught with danger and many a challenger. However, Codinera fancies his chances with his prized player and he thinks it is a compliment for Jalalon to be compared to Castro. “The fact that kinuha siya sa national team means something,” pointed out the coach who himself was a vital cog in the national team during the 1980s. "Karangalan hindi lang para sa Arellano at para na rin sa kanya. Vani has the speed, the right attitude, the know how. All he needs to work on is his shooting. Sa PBA rin naman nahasa si Jayson Castro sa shooting. All Vani needs is a chance and more exposure. Sa PBA, they basically play two kinds of systems — the dribble drive and the triangle. Jiovani can play both. That is how talented the boy is.”

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