Another Calvin joins Gilas

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) - November 27, 2020 - 12:00am

There’s a Calvin in the Gilas pool assembled for the FIBA Asia Cup second qualifying window in Bahrain and he’s not Abueva. He’s 6-4 Calvin Oftana, the reigning NCAA men’s basketball MVP from San Beda and his rise to prominence from humble beginnings is an inspiring story.

Jerome Laquinon, a Dumaguete-born level 3 basketball referee and organizer of the Filipino league in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada where he migrated to in 2009, remembered coaching Oftana at the Jimalalud fiesta open. Oftana was born in Danao City, Cebu but grew up in Siaton, about 173 kilometers south of Jimalalud in Negros Oriental and was raised by his mother Vilma after his parents split up. In 2014, Laquinon was in Jimalalud on holiday. “Every year, I try to go home to Jimalalud from December to January,” said Laquinon, a nursing assistant at the Wascana Rehabilitation Center in Regina.

“The fiesta open is one of the best, if not the most well-attended basketball tournament in the province, held from the first week of January to the fiesta of Sto. Nino on Jan. 15. Players from Cebu, Bacolod and Dumaguete play in the open and the gym is always packed. In 2014, I went home on a short vacation and coached a team called the Regina Sea Snakes in the open. Calvin was introduced to me by a local coach and teacher Dennis Cimafranca. At the time, he was a freshman at Asian College in Dumaguete, tall, lanky. He played for my team but rode the bench as he was still learning the game. The shy guy wore old Kobe shoes with no traction so he kept sliding on the court. We celebrated his 18th birthday at our house and as a gift, I gave him a pair of shoes I bought during a trip to North Dakota.”

Laquinon said with Oftana in his lineup, the Sea Snakes won the open title. “Honestly, I didn’t see any special skill from this kid, he was just tall,” he said. “But I saw how he worked hard in and out of the court. Since he rose from poverty, I never saw him complain. He played for coach Mike Villahermosa in Dumaguete. He rode a motorcycle for two hours to play in Jimalalud. Although he played only once for me, we continue to stay in touch through Facebook. I love this guy. He deserves more of what he has today, he worked so hard to be where he is. I’m so proud that he’s now the NCAA MVP and with Gilas. He’s a perfect example of how hard work and sacrifice pay off. In this time of pandemic and calamity, Calvin is a good example of how you can rise from adversity and get back on your feet. He’s very humble, down to earth.”

A few months after Oftana played for Laquinon in 2014, he was recruited by San Beda. Two years ago, he averaged 4.8 points for the Red Lions. Last season, Oftana turned in clips of 15.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.2 blocks to lead San Beda to an 18-0 record in the elims. Now 24, he has a year left of NCAA eligibility.

Laquinon, 42, has been a licensed referee with the Canadian Association of Basketball Officials the past five years. He was a jail officer with the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology under DILG for six years before migrating to Canada. “I used to play basketball but when my Achilles heel told me to stop, I went into officiating,” he said. “On my first year as referee in Canada, it was a rude awakening as I was a new guy with a different color but made my way up little by little. Right now, basketball is cancelled in the entire province of Saskatchewan. Our Filipino league is called the Philippine Entrepreneurs Society of Saskatchewan or PESOS basketball league with three tournaments in a season. Our spring league the President’s Cup is from March to May, the summer league Fiestang Pinoy Cup is from July to September and our winter league the Chairman’s Cup is from October to January. We usually get 20 teams for the winter league and each team is allowed one reinforcement with a height limit of six feet. Our Canadian colleagues love our Pinoy style of basketball, pure heart and full of determination.”

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