Nermal nearly opted out

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

NLEX rookie Jhan Nermal never imagined he would someday play in the PBA back in his high school days in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental, when even cracking the intramural lineup was a challenge. Growing up, he was short and thin. Whenever he tried out for a team, rejection was imminent.

But Nermal persevered. He finally made his high school team as a senior but rode the bench. With a basketball career farthest from his mind, Nermal enrolled in a six-month welding course at TESDA after high school graduation. His parents couldnt afford to send him to college and he remembered how as a kid, he cried whenever there was little food on the table. He did OJT as a welder then took odd jobs in construction work, mixing cement, hauling heavy materials by hand, doing whatever it took to earn P250 a day. Through it all, Nermal found solace playing hoops at night when the work day ended. He grew up to 6-3 and learned how to make use of his height to ball. An offer eventually came to play for West Negros University and he jumped at the opportunity.

West Negros had produced basketball stars like Yves Dignadice, Noy Baclao and Raul Soyud. Nermal saw it as a springboard to break into the big leagues. He played in three of his six years at West Negros then in 2019, decided to try his luck in Manila. As a probinsyano, Nermal found city life too stressful, traffic was brutal and lines at the MRT were too long. He thought of packing up and returning home but found hope in the MPBL. Nermal played for Bulacan, Bacolod and Bacoor in three MPBL seasons and squeezed in a stint with San Miguel Beer in the PBA 3x3.

At 30, Nermal was encouraged by Bacoor coach Alex Angeles and veteran teammate Mark Yee to apply for the PBA draft last year. It had never crossed his mind before because he didnt think he could make the grade. But Nermal had nothing to lose so he signed up. As Draft Day drew closer, Nermal thought of backing out, fearing he wouldnt be picked. He never played for a Manila school so he couldnt have been scouted seriously. Nermal, however, decided to push through with it and when his name was called out, he couldnt believe it at first. He was the 21st overall pick and NLEX named him on the second round. His expectation was he would either be undrafted or picked in the late rounds.

Before the PBA season began, Nermal reported for NLEX practice at eight in the morning then drove two hours to Bacoor for training with the Strikers. He slept at the Bacoor gym and woke up at 4:30 a.m. for the commute to UP for NLEX practice. When the MPBL season ended, Nermal joined the Commissioners Cup with four games to go and averaged 10.2 points and 16.8 minutes. In the ongoing Philippine Cup, hes averaging 9.5 points and 18.7 minutes. Nermal said adjusting from MPBL to PBA has been tough but with coach Frankie Lims guidance and his teammatessupport, hes pushing forward. Nermal said hell give it his all for NLEX, motivated by his goal of providing for his family. He has two children, one from a previous relationship and another with his wife. Nermal has a dual purpose in life, to give back to those whove cared for him since his early years of struggle and to secure a bright future for his loved ones through his basketball career. Hes making it happen.

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