On Wednesday, UP’s Juan Gomez de Liano scored a career-high 29 points against Ateneo. But I’m not going to talk about it.
Because on Wednesday, UP’s Juan Gomez de Liano did something more amazing than drop a career-high against the defending UAAP champions: he dropped two Ateneo Blue Eagles with his stepback jumper. Let’s talk about that.
The stepback jumper is what Gomez de Liano does when he’s feeling extra sassy. It’s his go-to move when he wants to share an intimate moment with his defender.
There’s a version of it in the 2017 FIBA 3×3 U18 World Cup 2017, where he starts to dance with the ball on his right hand (he’s a leftie), crosses between the legs to the left hand, then in a half beat brings the ball back to his right to assume a drive hard position. But instead of driving hard, he pulls back, like waaaay back, sets both feet, and squares up for a smooth jumper.
There’s another version of it in UAAP Season 80, his rookie year, where he drives hard to the basket with the ball on his right hand, makes contact with his dance partner, then pulls back, like waaaay back, and grooves for a one-footed fadeaway ala-Dirk.
Then there’s a third version, Wednesday’s version, where Juan GDL, as he’s usually referred to, turns to Juan WTF. Let’s take a look at it, frame by frame:
The play started out calmly, quietly, like any earthquake usually does. The ball found Juan GDL at the right elbow with about 10 seconds left on the shot clock, game clock at 4:46, Ateneo up two in the second quarter. The man about to be shook was Matt Nieto, a premier Ateneo stopper and one-time stealer of Kevin Durant’s cap. Nieto knows D.
Juan GDL posted up against Nieto, feeling his defense, digging the scene. With his back to the basket, he looked to the left side of the floor and made a little hand gesture to tell his teammates to move back. Left side clear.
Sensing danger, Nieto locked down and forced Juan GDL to face up. Three things happened: 1) Juan GDL exposed the ball to bait Nieto into swiping, 2) Nieto swiped at the exposed ball twice, and 3) Bright Akhuetie cleared the runaway for a Juan GDL takeoff. Right side clear.
With the stage set, the Battle of Katipunan became a battle for space, an impromptu duel between Juan Gomez de Liano versus Matt Nieto. Juan GDL drove to the basket, but Nieto was quick to his feet, getting to the spot where Juan GDL wanted to go to.
THE DOUBLE TEAM
Thirdy Ravena was in the middle of a personal hot streak. He leaped over and beyond about six people for a thunderous tip dunk just two plays prior, then hounded Juan GDL to force a turnover. Head still steaming and eyes still burning from the highlights, Ravena looked hungry for a block. As soon as Juan GDL made his move, Ravena gatecrashed the scene by coming over to double team.
It wasn’t the best decision he’s made in his basketball career. (“Nakakahiya ‘yung number 0,” Ravena, a renowned IG champ, would later comment on an Instagram post.)
Juan GDL went in then went out; he stepped back then stepped back some more.
Did he travel? Yes, he did.
He traveled forward in time to trick Nieto’s left ankle into thinking he was going to drive. Then he traveled back in time to intertwine Nieto’s right ankle with Ravena’s foot.
The two Ateneans fell simultaneously, awkwardly—Nieto diving forward while Ravena dropped to his side. They both somehow ended up facing the basket, both asses on the ground, probably disoriented from the tragic turn of events. All they could do was sit and watch, and wish for a miss.
Gomez de Liano wouldn’t miss. He usually doesn’t. Definitely not open jumpers, not when two of his defenders are sitting on the floor with their backs against him. The entire play took six whole seconds, but as the ball traced a perfect arc to the basket, it must’ve felt like six minutes for Ateneo—it must’ve felt like forever for Nieto and Ravena. Juan OMG.
As soon as the ball hit the bottom of the net, Nieto and Ravena got up simultaneously, as quickly as they fell. Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga, who the whole time this was happening was having a chat with Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin at the sidelines, appeared to walk as far away from the scene as possible. Juan GDL and Nieto raised their arms at the same time, both nailing the WTF pose, but with opposite context. The whole Ateneo bench shifted in their seats and froze, not giving in to the moment. But it was some moment.
“That’s James Harden for you right there!” UAAP analyst Anton Roxas said, his excitement infectious.
“Difficult shot. Two defenders tumbling down,” UAAP analyst and PBA legend Ronnie Magsanoc said, matter-of-factly.
“Parang may guardian angel siya,” my wife, who obviously watched too much Angels in the Outfield and not enough basketball, said after I showed her the clip.
I guess that explains everything. Forget analysis. UP did lose to Ateneo in this game, but after watching this particular play more than 30 times, the only logical conclusion I could come up with is that Juan Gomez de Liano has a guardian angel, and he’s going to be fine.