Talk about a fitting sendoff.
After spending 15 years in the University of San Carlos (USC) school system, Warriors skipper Nico Magat made sure to leave an unforgettable imprint in the school’s lore as he swished a crucial triple down the stretch that led to a 64-53 win over the University of the Visayas (UV) Green Lancers in their championship rubbermatch last Tuesday in the Cesafi men’s basketball tournament.
Up seven, 56-49, with the Green Lancers breathing down their necks, Magat received a pass on the right corner where he rose up and canned a three pointer that pushed their lead to 10 with 1:53 left.
On his way down the floor, Magat faced the roaring Warrior crowd, gestured to his chest and made a heart sign, signifying his love for his school, his team and their supporters.
“It’s really all about heart,” said Magat, who played briefly for the San Beda Red Cubs under, coincidentally, his head coach now at USC Britt Reroma. “I was on the verge of collapsing because it was so hot and I was battling the flu. I almost couldn’t breathe but every time I looked at the bench, there was coach (Britt Reroma) pointing to his chest, reminding me to play my heart out.”
And as the ball nestled softly at the bottom of the net, there was only one thought that ran through Magat’s mind – history made – all from someone who was on the verge of quitting the team last year after struggling to find a fit in the rotation of then head coach Junthy Valenzuela.
“It feels great! I’ve been waiting for this moment my entire career. A lot of great USC players went through their careers without winning one so I’m dedicating this title to all of them. I feel like I just won the lottery,” Magat said animatedly.
More than the three-point proficiency, it was Magat’s defense on lanky wingman Leonard Santillan down the stretch that also made a huge difference in the game’s outcome.
Santillan was having his way against USC’s defense, racking up 12 points. But with Magat sticking to the former Batang Gilas like white on rice, Santillan added just four in the final 20 minutes.
“(Leonard) was really unstoppable when he was being defended by smaller players. That’s why we made the adjustment in the second half to have me own him. Sabi ko ‘bahala na mamatay’ dito basta manalo lang!”