//Cover Stories
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Same Old Love, Brand New Game

These four Anta athletes all started their journey somewhere. Now, they introduce us to a whole new stage to play.

Passion—that intense, uncontrollable emotion that we hear many athletes pay tribute to when it comes to their success and drive. Where does it all start? Where does this burning desire to improve come from?

For most Filipino players, it comes from the street—where there are less rules, more ball, and more pace. The very raw interpretation of the game in a ‘dog-eat-dog’ environment instills the burning passion that you see in Philippine basketball culture. 

These four Anta athletes are no strangers to this. 

Tonino Gonzaga, Justin Chua, Aldo Panlilio, and Poy Erram are all passionate about one thing—basketball. But, each one developed that love for the game in their own unique way. All it took for them was the chance to play.

And now, the Philippines is getting yet another opportunity for athletes around the country who are equally as passionate about basketball. This year, Anta launched their new tournament called Shock The Game: a 4-on-4 full-court basketball tournament. 

With the new format comes new avenues for players to test and showcase their skills in the same way that these four athletes did. 

The GAME was lucky enough to get the chance to learn about the origins of some of our country’s athletes. And with it, their thoughts on adding a brand new tournament with a unique format to our already abundant basketball scene.

Tonino Gonzaga

Tonino “Zags” Gonzaga started playing basketball the way most kids do: with friends.

In school, he would play games during recess and lunch. He tells us that no matter what the circumstances, whether they were in sneakers or leather shoes, they would play every day. “The passion started there,” he shares.

Growing up in Ateneo, Zags regards the school as the place that helped raise him. And as such, it made sense that he ended up playing for their high school team, and eventually, for the Blue Eagles. Playing for a university with students and athletes as passionate as Ateneo’s, he expresses, “In college, it’s all about passion. It’s about fighting for everyone who believed in you.”

After he graduated from Ateneo, he still continued playing the game he loves. Currently, he plays in the PBA 3X3 Conference for the Meralco Bolts. And in comparison to his college playing days, he says, “It’s still passion, but in a different way. It’s more focused on my craft now and how I can improve.”

But until now, he still takes it back to where it all started. When he has time away from PBA, he still plays pickup games with his friends the same way he did growing up. To him, “Streetball is about enjoyment with friends.”

In the same way, Anta’s newest tournament, Shock The Game, is all about that. It’s about the passion, enjoyment, the love for the game that act as the foundations for players like Zags.

As a 3-on-3 player, what do you think about the new 4-on-4 full-court format introduced by Anta?

Similar to 3-on-3, I like that it’s fast-paced. I like how you get to play for sure every time you’re on the court…So every day, you have the pressure of having to perform. I think the 4-on-4 game with a full court is in the middle of 3-on-3 and 5-on-5. But, the exception is the fast-break plays because you play full-court. I think it’s more high-octane and more exciting, but definitely, it’s something to be developed still, and I’m glad Anta is developing it.

Justin Chua

Justin Chua is currently a PBA player for the NLEX Road Warriors. But, he admitted to us that basketball wasn’t always something that he wanted to pursue.

For Justin, it all started with his stepdad. As a kid, he was very tall, so people expected him to become a basketball player. So, his stepdad, who was also a coach back then, would take him to play games in his barangay. “At the start, it was not okay for me because I didn’t really want it. I wanted to stay home and be with my friends—typical probinsyano,” he shared.

But eventually, when he saw the benefits of playing, such as free schooling, travel opportunities, and meeting new people, he warmed up to the idea of pursuing the sport further. As a player for his high school, he was recruited by Ateneo and like Zags, became a Blue Eagle.

Now, he plays as a professional for the NLEX Road Warriors. But even as a pro, he still comes back to play with friends for fun. He may have been forced into streetball games in the past, but after being given opportunity after opportunity, he found his passion for the sport.

In the same manner, Anta hopes to bring a new kind of opportunity to the basketball-loving country of the Philippines. With so many players in the scene, it’s a new way to discover new talent, and this is something Justin noticed himself.

How do you think Filipinos will take to the new 4-on-4 full-court format in Shock The Game?

They would enjoy it. In the streets, they play 3-on-3 and 4-on-4, so I think it’s something that’s not going to be new to them. Maybe except for the full-court [aspect]. But I think it’s something they’d love to do if they get the chance. When I was watching the game on Saturday, I saw so many players na ang gagaling and you know they just need the chance or opportunity to really play and show their game.

Aldo Panlilio

Anta athlete Aldo Panlilio, grew up with many different passions, and sports was a huge part of them. When he was younger, growing up with two brothers, they all used to play basketball in their garage with their dad. “My dad would play against all of us,” he shares. But apart from playing basketball with his family, Aldo was actually more serious about a different sport.

Aldo was a baseball player when he was younger. In fact, he even used to play for the Philippine team years ago. But in high school, he stopped. Instead, he focused on other interests, of which he had plenty. From studying Legal Management to Diplomatic Affairs to getting a private pilot’s license—Aldo has done it all. But now, he focuses on working as a strength and conditioning coach.

Until now, he still plays basketball and is also a trainer for PBA players. And with his expertise, he believes that Anta’s Shock The Game tournament is a great fit for Filipino basketball players.

How do you think Filipinos can adapt to the new 4-on-4 format?

For me, 4-on-4 gives you a lot of space. And Filipinos, for the height, speed, and build, I see it as a jacked-up version of 3-on-3. It’s kind of middle ground between 3-on-3 and 5-on-5, but in the sense that there aren’t too many mismatches. Because I noticed if you run the floor, regardless of whether you’re big or small, you’ll still be able to get a basket. But 4-on-4 is not really a setup-type game. You have opportunities to score right away, and Filipinos are very fast, they like to run, they like to dribble, and they like to shoot. So it gives them more freedom than the conventional 5-on-5.

Can 4-on-4 be a good foundation for players who want to go pro?

A good player knows how to adjust to anything. So it doesn’t matter if you’re playing 3-on-3 or 4-on-4. If you know how to learn, you know how to listen, and how to adapt to what you’re doing, going 5-on-5 shouldn’t be hard. But it is a good stepping stone because if you’re having a hard time understanding things, starting lower will help you realize [your weaknesses] and how this game goes. But I think everyone can learn. It’s a good stepping stone to higher basketball.

Poy Erram

PBA player Poy Erram now plays for TNT Tropang Giga, but his love for the game started in the streets.

Poy grew up playing basketball, or shall we say streetball, with his friends. “That’s where I learned how to play the streetball kind of basketball,” he shares. And he told us when it comes to streetball, the rule is no blood, no foul. This is where he discovered just how much Filipinos love basketball, because even when times were tough, he told us, “Kahit na ice tubig lang, kahit na may limang piso ka lang, makakalaro ka na.”

But of course, his game didn’t stop in the streets. As he grew older, he started playing for his high school’s basketball team, and this is where he really started to pay attention to the details of the game. Unlike when you’re playing with friends, he had to grow accustomed to structured basketball. And the same was true when he got recruited by Ateneo.

As a Blue Eagle, he expressed that he used to struggle to get the hang of a new style of play under Coach Norman. “Kailangan alam mo yung role mo eh, doon ako nahirapan,” he says. But eventually, he found his groove and made his way to the PBA. And here, he tells us, “Dito pumapasok ang level of streetball.”

Playing professionally, he told us was like mixing together the structured basketball he learned in school with the elements of streetball that he used to play as a kid. “Wala naman yung coach mo sa court eh, kayo lang lima sa court, so kailangan mo talaga magimprovise, doon talaga pumpasok yung streetball sa PBA.”

Like most players, Poy started with streetball. And even on the glossy professional courts, he still goes back to those very foundations. And with Shock The Game, he believes that this is the perfect way to create new foundations for all the Filipinos who hope to make it in the sport one day.

How do you think the 4-on-4 format can act as a foundation for players to advance in the sport?

Ngayon, maraming liga na. So ang mga potential ng player, lalaki. Kasi kung konti lang yung liga, ang daming players. Before, 10 teams pa lang yung PBA pero ang daming players. At least kapag may bagong liga, hindi takot ang mga players na maglaro. Exposure din ito eh, para makita yung talent nila, lalo na sa mga lugar na galing sa probinsya, at lalo na yung mga hindi naglalaro sa UAAP. So at least mero outlet na sila na makapaglaro.

Malaking tulong din ito, kasi bago lang eh. At nakakapagod talaga siya, kasi apat lang kayo. So malaking tulong siya para macondition din yung mga players.

Shock The Game: A new foundation, new opportunity, new future

These four athletes all have their own backgrounds. They all embarked on their own journeys and met their own respective challenges, but all ended up on the other side. However, they are not alone in feeling this passionate about the sport. As the country’s most recognized game, there are many other players nationwide just like these four.

And this is where Anta’s Shock The Game, comes in.

As the newest tournament, it brings its own unique spin to the game we all know and love. The rigorous and fast-paced game is suited to the Filipino build and style, and with so many players who all crave the chance to shine, it’s an opportunity wide open to anyone who, as the tagline goes, is free to dream.

Zags, Justin, Aldo, and Poy were all just dreamers once. No matter where they started, at the end of the day, that dream is something they all shared. And through their opportunities, coupled with passion and hard work, they were able to get to where they are today.

Shock The Game is an exciting platform, not just for the countless hungry players across the country, but for the sport in general. With avenues like these, players can only stand to gain from them. 

So, this one is for anyone with a dream, anyone who wants to make it big, or anyone who simply wants an outlet to unleash their passion.

And if this is you, make sure to catch Shock The Game’s final rounds happening this weekend! Watch the top 16 teams battle it out for the championship, plus get to see a performance by the Itchyworms. It’s all free, it’s all new, and it’s all about celebrating Filipino basketball culture.

Photography VYN RADOVAN
Creative Direction MARC YELLOW
Grooming SETTE SB

Special thanks to ANTA PHILIPPINES 
Shot on Location The Th3rd Floor