Sports Sports Feature

Most improved player: Justine Baltazar, a big man on the big stage

After falling short of a Final Four stint last UAAP Season 81 because of a heartbreaking loss to the FEU Tamaraws, the DLSU Green Archers remain hopeful as go-to center Justine Baltazar showcased his full potential this recently concluded season. Although the squad lost a valuable piece in Ben Mbala, Baltazar strongly proved that he can hold the fort for his team, which allowed him to win a UAAP Men’s Basketball Mythical Five award. Aside from being able to start 11 out of 14 games, the Green Archer has created an important chemistry with spitfire guard Aljun Melecio.

The low-post player now turned versatile big man has added to his stats averaging 13.4 points per game, 9.6 rebounds per game, and the much needed 2.1 blocks per game for the Green-and-White last season. In the opening game against his former school, National University, Baltazar immediately poured in 17 points and 12 rebounds. Other shining moments for the rising Green Archer were chipping in a double-double against UST with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks; and contributing huge numbers in an overtime win versus Adamson with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and five blocks. Because of his resurging performances, Justine Baltazar is The Lasallian’s Most Improved Player for this season.

Stepping up to the occasion

With big shoes to fill, Baltazar seized the opportunity to play with confidence and help the team. Entering the season, the third year player’s mindset was that it was time to double his efforts. “Sinasabi ng mga coaches sakin na kaya ko mag-work hard at mag-extra work sa mga training, kaya siguro maganda ‘yung kinalabasan ng laro nitong season 81,” he shares.

(The coaches keep on telling me that I can work hard and put in extra work in our training; maybe that’s why my performances came out great last season 81.)

Baltazar credits the team’s coaches for his continuous improvement, “‘Pag may nakita silang mali sa akin, itatama nila. Kaya malaking tulong [yung] binigay nila sa akin, kaya mas lalo ako nag-improve,” he adds. After garnering the Mythical Five award, the 6’8” athlete plans to use this as extra motivation to tow his team to a championship next season.

(If the coaches see something wrong in my game, they correct me, which has been really helpful and made me improve
even more.)

Baltazar also draws inspiration from his family, coaches, teammates, and friends as he perseveres in his career as a student athlete. “Kung hindi dahil sa kanila, hindi ko makukuha itong Mythical Five kaya malaki ang pasasalamat ko sa kanila,” he expresses.

(If not for them, I wouldn’t be able to win this Mythical Five [award], which is why I am very grateful to them.)

Work harder, rise higher

Baltazar wants to be a leader on the court, which he sees as an essential part of his growth as a player. Keeping in mind the lessons he has learned from his experience, he looks forward to boosting the morale of the Green Archers. The big man says, “Ine-expect nila na kaya ko sila tulungan, at hindi ko sila pababayaan.”

(They are expecting me to help them, and I will not let them down.)

Finding balance and being diligent are his keys to achieving his goals as a student athlete in La Salle. Looking beyond the preseason games and preparations before the next UAAP season, Baltazar emphasizes, “Kailangan ko everyday magsipag sa training at sa mga darating na mga games.”

(I will have to work hard everyday in our training and during the upcoming games.)

Baltazar shares his message to the Lasallian community, “Maraming salamat sa lahat ng sumusuporta sa men’s basketball team ng La Salle, especially sa mga alumni and fans.” (Thank you very much to everyone who continues to support the men’s basketball team of La Salle, especially the alumni and the fans.)

Jeremiah Dizon

By Jeremiah Dizon

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