ALL SEASON long, Letran’s long-limbed yet undersized center Jomari Sollano played the role of silent operator.
Quiet and unassuming, the 6-foot-4 Sollano relentlessly battled NCAA’s behemoths like Perpetual Help’s Bright Akhuetie, Mapua’s Allwell Oraeme and San Beda’s duo of Ola Adeogun and Donald Tankoua while shying away from the limelight that often fell on his more well-known teammates Mark Cruz and Kevin Racal.
Even after hitting the biggest shot in Letran’s storied history in recent memory – a baseline jumper with 32.6 seconds left in overtime that put the Knights in front of the San Beda Red Lions, 83-82 – Sollano remained true to himself in spite of the celebratory ruckus around him.
“Di ko actually napansin yung tira ko na panglamang. Nagfocus lang ako sa game hanggang matapos,” said Sollano, a native of Talisay City who bravely made the decision to leave the comfy confines of Cebu and transfer to the Intramuros campus following the temporary disbandment of the basketball squad of his former school, the University of Southern Philippines Foundation Panthers after the 2013 season of the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation Inc. (Cesafi).
Harboring dreams of making it big in the sport, Sollano turned his attention to where a former USPF Panther and Letran Knight, Franz Dysam found his stomping ground. After several practices, Sollano knew he fit in and the rest, as they say, is history.
“Gusto ko talaga maglaro sa NCAA at pinili ko Letran kasi dito ako dinala ni Franz (Dysam),” shared Sollano in an exclusive talk with Cebu Daily News the morning after their championship win. “Tsaka hindi na rin ako gaano nag-adjust sa sistema kasi malaking bagay din yung experience ko sa paglaro sa Cesafi.”
Ranged against a fabled San Beda squad that sported a basketball résumé most Filipino basketball fans are quite familiar with – most collegiate titles with 19, five-year title reign from 2010 to 2015 – Sollano said that he and his teammates leaned on a simple formula that got them to where they were: each other.
“Thankful na may ganito akong team. Kahit off the court solid samahan namin at tsaka kahit walang import, kami lahat nagtulong-tulong lang at naglaro as a team.”
He added that it absolutely also helped to have an eight-time boxing champion in their corner.
“Sobrang importante ang presence ni boss Manny (Pacquiao) dahil mas agresibo kami kapag andiyan si boss nanonood. Paulit-ulit niya sinasabi to play as a team kasi mas mahirap daw talunin ang team kung solid ang samahan.”