Phil Mercader: Watch him rise from the abyss of despair
CEBU CITY, Philippines — Cebu’s collegiate basketball scene was said to be at its peak from 2007 to 2010. Thanks to the torrid rivalry between the University of Cebu (UC) Webmasters and the University of the Visayas (UV) Green Lancers. The rivalry proved how rich Cebu is in terms of basketball talent.
It was also the time when two giants, Junemar Fajardo and Greg Slaughter, dominated the floor. But, they were not the only ones who shone brightly on the hardcourt at that time.
One of them was Phil Mercader, the crafty 6-foot-0 shooting guard of the Green Lancers who was touted to be the next big thing in Philippine basketball alongside Fajardo and Slaughter.
Phil was a three-time MVP of the M.Lhuillier 21-under cagefest, a Cesafi high school MVP, a Mythical Five in his rookie year, and was instrumental to UV’s three-peat in the Cesafi.
However, the boy many predicted could go places lost interest in his favorite sport. He got entangled with other priorities that transformed him from being a PBA prospect to a lost soul in the basketball arena.
In short, he was a wasted talent.
Now 32 years old, Phil said he feels his chance of becoming a basketball professional, like what his father dreamed him to be, is slowly slipping away from his grasp.
But when you’re determined to seek redemption, when you know you still have it in you……it will happen as Mercader’s narrative would play out.
Because the lost boy of basketball, whose flashy moves were once the envy of friends and foes, is finally suiting up in the pro league.
A miracle one may think but can actually witness on April 9, when Phil suits up with the Kiboy’s Computer Specialist (KCS)-Cebu City Megabytes in the Pilipinas VisMin Super League, the first pro league in the Visayas-Mindanao region.
“Thankful kaayo ko ani nga liga. Although ang competition dili pareho kadako sa PBA, pero akong pangandoy mahimong professional basketball player na fulfill na jud. Naka ana ko dili pa awahi ang tanan,” said the 32-year old Mandaue City native.
In 2015, Phil was gearing up for the PBA Draft in Manila. However, family problems got in the way, forcing him to fly back to Cebu. Missing the Draft ultimately killed his dream of making it to the PBA. And he sulked in the corner for many years, vices and alcohol became his most trusted allies.
“Abi nako mao nato akong break pag 2015, magpa draft unta ko sa PBA. Pero family matters, namili ko between family and career. So, niuli ko diri sa Cebu, naka ana ko basin dili para nako ang basketball,” Phil revealed.
“Disappointed kaayo akong parents, especially si papa tungod sa nahitabo kay ni give-up ko sa akong dream nga almost makuha na jud unta nako. Naay time wala mi nagtagad nilang papa ug mama. Naka realize ko daghan kaayo ug players pareho nako nga gusto makaduwa ug ma draft sa PBA pero ako lang gisayang.”
Phil’s father, Joel, was the person who never, even for a single second, doubted Phil’s hardcourt potential. Phil said that one of his father’s dreams was to watch him play live on TV and in the PBA, no less.
“Mao gyud na pangandoy sa akong papa makaduwa ko ug PBA. Si mama i stop lang ang basketball kay nakita ni mama naglisud ko,” said Phil.
“Si papa sigeg push nako, nadala na lang si mama. Pag abot ug college, sige nako ug encourage nila basin maabot ra jud ang break nako. Panahon to nilang Slaughter ug Fajardo.”
Phil’s suiting up in the pro league would have been the realization of his father’s long-cherished dream.
However, Phil’s father passed away on September 23, 2020, at the age of 54, just a few months before he got a call from KCS Megabytes’ owner Ricky Verdida asking him if he is interested to play for the team.
“Sobra ka sakit to ang nahitabo ni papa kay kalit-kalit man gud to. Akong message ni papa nako mao na ni nga break iyang gipangita, ipakita jud nako nga worth it ko sama sa iyang pirmi isulti nako,” said Phil.
ROAD TO REDEMPTION
Phil’s father encouraged him to try out for the Cebu City Sharks in the MPBL in 2018. However, Phil at that time was out of shape.
“Nangutana si papa nako wala ba ko nasuya sa akong mga teammates sauna nga niduwa na sa Cebu City Sharks sa MPBL. Gi ingnan ko ni papa nga kaya kaayo nako ilang dinuwaan unya nipadayon sila. Tambay ra ako ato nga time, sige lang ko ug inom. Out of shape jud ko ato,” said Phil.
After receiving a call from Verdida last year, Phil immediately practiced and worked out at home. He lost weight significantly. He also left his vices hoping to start a new life and fulfilling his and his father’s dream.
Phil was still mourning for the untimely passing of his father when he got a call from Verdida. He said he was deeply discouraged by what happened, but Verdida told him that he needs to move on and fulfill his dream in basketball.
“Gi ingnan ko ni sir Ricky (Verdida) nga naa pa nindot nagpaabot nako kaysa akong i down akong self. Iyaha ko gi ingnan nga kaya kaayo ni nimo Phil. Mao to pag November naka decide ko nga ako na i discipline akong kaugalingon. Ako gi dedicate tanan para ni papa. Wala nako nag inom, wala nako nag sige ug tambay, ” Phil revealed.
He said he first turned down Verdida’s offer telling the latter he could no longer compete.
“Pero iyaha ko gi tagaan ug chance. Gitagaan ko niya ug three months to get into shape. Mao to na challenge ko, na motivate ko ug maayo nga ipadayon akong pangandoy.”
His close friend and former UV Green Lancers teammate Ritchum Denison also motivated him to train again and return to basketball.
Phil also resigned from his previous work as an assistant marketing officer in a real estate company in Cebu. He said he left a lot of projects after he decided to join the KCS Megabytes.
READY FOR THE BIG LEAGUE
Phil, who has two kids, said that he wants to become a beacon of hope for people like him.
“Ipakita nako sa tanan nga nawagtangan ug hope nga dili pa jud awahi ang tanan. Kung unsa man ilang giagian karon makaya ra na nila basta naa lang jud sila pagsalig sa ilang kaugalingon ug sa Ginuo. Ako mismo, ako na gi abandon tanan pangandoy nako and all of a sudden out of nowhere ang opportunity niduol nako. Mao ayaw jud mo ug give up,” said Phil.
“Gusto nako ipakita sa mga taw nga ni doubt nako, sa akong ex-wife nga I’m not that person anymore. Tinuod ilang gisulti nga ni retire na jud ko sa basketball pero I will prove them wrong. Pasalamat kaayo ko sa akong family nga ni support nako. Ni Ritchum (Denison) ni boss Ricky (Verdida) kay wala jud sila nawad-an ug pagtuo nako.”
Determined words from someone who has risen from the abyss of despair, armed with a renewed vigor to get things right for self and family. With fire in his belly and determination in his eyes, watch Phil Mercader conquer new heights in the Pilipinas VisMin Super League starting April 9. /rcg
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