Throwback Thursday: A Tough Player Against Tough Times

This article originally appeared in SLAM #173

San Mig Coffee scorer Allein Maliksi is used to falling down. Fortunately, he is also very good at bouncing back.

By Carlo Pamintuan

Allein Maliksi’s career was about to take off.

After being traded to the San Mig Coffee Mixers, because he played tremendously during the previous conference for Barako Bull Energy Cola, the popular opinion was that Maliksi would be buried deep in his new team’s bench behind James Yap and PJ Simon.

However, with the two scorers being inconsistent, Maliksi emerged as the primary threat for the Mixers off the bench. His stock soared as he was viewed as an important part of the team’s future.

Back in the 2011 PBA Draft, the Alaska Aces under then head coach Time Cone had a chance to grab Maliksi with their sixth overall pick. Instead they selected Mac Baracael, a product of the Smart-Gilas squad. Two years later, Cone made sure he won’t miss his chance to nab the skilled scorer by trading away Wesley Gonzales and Chris Pacana for him.

“Nung nagpa-draft ako di niya ako kinuha. Pinu-push ako ni coach Luigi [Trillo] sa kanya nung Alaska pa. So yung reaction ko, every time na kalaban ko sila, ginagalingan ko na lang,” Maliksi said in an interview with Mico Halili before the start of the PBA Governors’ Cup quarterfinals.

Maliksi was a product of Trillo’s Cebuana Lhuillier Gems in the PBA D-League. Trillo knew his capabilities, and this was why the current Alaska head coach was one of Maliksi’s biggest fans.

“Sobrang happy daw si Coach Tim kasi gusto talaga niya akong makalaro sa team niya. Excited ako kasi alam kong marami akong matututunan sa kanya,” Maliksi said about his new coach. “Ang daming championships na yung napanalo niya at ang daming players na sumikat na sa kanya.”

In 10 games with the Mixers, Maliksi averaged 10.9 points and 2.7 rebounds per game, in only 20 minutes. He was San Mig Coffee’s third leading scorer behind import Marqus Blakely and barely behind James Yap who has 10 more minutes per game on him.

Most San Mig Coffee fans were surprised with Maliksi’s performance. He, on the other hand, saw it coming. “Pinapasok ko sa sarili ko na yung hard work yung magdadala sa game ko. Ever since mag-start ako kay coach Pido [Jarencio] tiniyaga ko. Lahat ng meron ako ngayon dahil sa hard work.”

During the interview, Maliksi was in high spirits. They were about to enter the playoffs and for the first time in his career, it looked like he was on a team primed for a championship run. But fate had other plans. It played another cruel joke that would test Maliksi’s resolve.

Maliksi drove into the basket against the Alaska defense in the second quarter of their do-or-die game. After being inserted into the game, Maliksi scored 10 points in only six minutes. It was not surprising as he always played well against them. The wingman was going for another field goal conversion when fate, like so many times in his life, tested him again.

We agreed to meet at a coffee shop in the Ortigas area on a Tuesday afternoon. Later that day, his Mixers would face the Meralco Bolts for Game 2 of their semifinals series in the PBA Governors’ Cup. Yet Maliksi found himself at a coffee shop after dropping his parents off at a nearby mall. He walked without a limp. He looked completely healthy. Yet he carried around one of the most devastating injuries in basketball.

Maliksi wore Varsity Red Jordan 1s with a matching shirt. As he sat down, my attention was quickly drawn to the vertical scar on one knee, because in a couple of weeks, his other knee will bear the same scar.

It was a drive he has done countless times. He dribbled towards his left to attack the defense. A pump fake and a short fade-away jumper usually followed this. As Maliksi approached the basket, Alaska big man Sonny Thoss bumped him. It was a harmless foul but Maliksi fell to the floor in obvious pain.

“Yung una kong naramdaman yung grabeng pain pero tinitiis kong hindi sumigaw. Nung replay na nung nangyari dun na ako napasigaw sa sakit,” Maliksi said. “No!” was all what he mustered to shout as the pain crept from his knee. “Naranasan ko na kasi yung ma-injure sa tuhod. Alam kong mahirap tapos kailangan ko na namang ulitin lahat.”

The MRI tests showed that Maliksi tore his ACL and sprained his MCL. It was devastating for Maliksi because he felt he needed to start from scratch again. The only silver lining for the young player is that he already knows what he’s up against as he has suffered from this injury twice already.

It was February of 2008 and Maliksi was preparing for his UAAP debut for the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers. He practiced with the UAAP team from 5:30 to 8:00 in the morning. But since the coaches thought he could use more seasoning, they made his play with UST’s Team B in the Home and Away Invitational League where he suffered the injury.

“Kalaban namin yung NU, bantay ko si Jonathan Jahnke,” Maliksi said, recalling the story like it happened yesterday. “Pagod na kasi ako nung game tapos di pa ako kumakain. Tumalon ako para kumuha ng rebound tapos nag-land ako sa right leg ko lang.” He then demonstrated what happened to his knee using his arms. He lined up his fists and quickly moved the one forward while moving the other back. It was the same motion he used to tell his trainers what happened to him last Sunday.

“Umiyak ako nun sa bench. Wala kasi akong alam sa ACL,” Maliksi shared. “Akala ko tapos na yung career ko. Iniisip ko na lang ‘Paano na yung pangarap ko? Paano na yung pamilya ko?’”

Since he would only be eligible to play for two years in the UAAP, Maliksi was still included in the UST lineup. By July, barely five months after his initial injury, Maliksi was deemed fit to play basketball again. Eager to prove his worth, the young Tiger rushed himself back. He paid for it as he re-injured his ACL during a practice.

So he took his time with rehab and worked his way back. He returned as an even better player, earning a PBL Most Valuable Player award and a Best Player of the Conference trophy in the PBA D-League.

He was drafted by Barako Bull, traded to Barangay Ginebra, and then, traded back to Barako Bull. Between the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup and Governors’ Cup, Maliksi played inspired basketball. He was constantly dropping 30-points games even if the opposing defenses concentrated on him. “He played so well against us that I told his coaches he could be in the running for Best Player of the Conference,” said Alaska assistant coach Alex Compton.

Everything was going well for Maliksi until that injury, but now that he’s already in this situation, he really has no choice but to accept it and move on. “Lahat gagawin ko para makabalik na mas malakas pa, kasi ako ang bread winner ng pamilya ko,” he said. “Mahirap yung mga pinagdaanan ko para marating ko yung point na ito kaya di ako papayag na ngayon pa ako susuko.”

I’ll play hard. I’ll work hard. I’ll do my best. I’ll give it my 110 percent. We often hear these words from players, and most of the times these words already sound robotic. But with Maliksi, it felt true. When he said he would do his best, I believed him. When he said he would be back better than ever, I trusted that he would. If you knew what Maliksi went through to get to where he is now, you’d understand too.

“Yung unang memories ko nung bata ako, yung nakatira kami sa skwater,” he opened up, as one of the baristas walked towards our table. “Hi, sir. Free taste po,” the barista said as she offered slices of French bread. Minutes earlier she also went around giving away small cups of their new coffee concoction. Maliski passed up on both. Food came easy now, but it used to be a daily struggle for the PBA player.

“Madalas yung ulam namin asukal lang o yung mamisong tsitsirya. Di ko nga alam kung paano ako lumaki kasi walang sustansya yung kinakain ko nung bata ako,” he added trying to add humor to cover the old pain.

“Yung bahay namin sobrang liit. Yung dingding namin nakasandal sa wall ng La Loma cemetery. Ni wala kaming toilet, yung arinola lang na puti. Tapos pag maliligo ako, kailangang pumila para sa tubig kasi iisa lang yung gripo.”
Even if they barely had anything, Maliksi loved their home.

“Na-demolish yung bahay namin kaya lumipat kami sa lola ko sa dad ko,” Maliksi went on. “Alam mo ba yung kural?” Allein asked. “Parang kulungan ng baboy yun. May mababang dingding tapos may maliit na gate. Yun yung tinayuan namin ng bahay pero di rin kami masyadong nagtagal doon,” he continued.

The Maliksi family then moved to his maternal grandparents’ place where he stayed until he made it to the PBA.

Maliksi was tall for his age but he wasn’t skilled. When he first tried out for the high school varsity team, he was the last one selected. “Sabi nung coach sa akin, ‘Di naman dapat kita kukunin, kaso matangkad ka.’ Mula noon nag-concentrate talaga ako para bawiin ng coach ko yung sinabi niya.”

Maliksi enrolled at the University of Manila for college to study Criminology. He only played during intramurals, but he was finally persuaded to try out for the university’s basketball team. Under head coach Loreto Tolentino, Maliksi flourished. Tolentino was known as a fierce competitor with a devil-may-care attitude. According to Maliksi, the coach was also known for getting physical with his players.

“Kay coach kasi yung ‘di mo gagalingan, masasampal ka. Kaya yun yung mentality ko dati. Ayokong masampal kaya ginalingan ko.”

Maliksi’s basketball career was starting to take shape. He had a growth spurt that gave him an extra four inches in height. However, tragedy befell the Maliksi family when his mother was diagnosed with stage 3 cervical cancer. Knowing that he needed to do something to take care of his family, Maliksi decided to go all-in and shoot for a professional basketball career.

“Yung mga teammates ko sa UM ang gagaling naman kaya nagtataka ako bakit walang nakakaabot sa kanila,” Maliksi said. “Nabalitaan ko yung ginawa ni Jerwin Gaco kaya naisip kong mag-transfer sa UST.”

“After nung ACL injury ko, one week akong umiiyak,” Allein admitted. “May kasama ako sa apartment namin pero di ko talaga kinakaya. Tumatalikod na lang ako at nagkukumot para di nila masyadong mapansin na umiiyak ako.”

The tears did dry up but it didn’t stay that way for long.

“One week after kong ma-injure, na-stroke ang father ko,” he admitted. It was another devastating blow to his rocky life but Allein and the resilient Maliksi family pulled together got through this new trial again.

“Naisipan ko talagang mag-ligang labas kasi iniisip ko yung pera,” he admitted. “Pero inisip ko na lang na maapektuhan yung paglalaro ko sa UST kung mahuli ako.” Maliksi instead found a loophole. There’s a rule against playing for pay in commercial leagues but there’s no rule for practicing with a private basketball club in exchange for food and allowance.

“Pagkatapos ko sa UST practice, pumupunta pa ako sa Wang’s [Basketball Club],” he said. “May 250 kasi na allowance doon twice a week. Tapos libre na rin yung pagkain ko. Paminsan inaabutan ako ng ibang ka-practice ko. Si Vergel Meneses binigyan ako ng 1,000 dati sobrang saya ko noon kasi pag wala akong pera pati yung tig bente singko na nakikita ko sa daan pinupulot ko. Iniipon ko yun kasi saying rin.”

At only 20-years of age, Maliksi already faced challenges that would last other people’s lifetimes. But every single time things got tough, Maliksi bit his lip and powered on. He might give out a shout born from frustration, he might even shed a tear or two while hiding under the blankets but he always persevered.

“Expiring na ako sa October,” Maliksi said. “Kinakabahan ako kasi nag-loan ako para makabili ng bahay. Tapos ngayon di ako sigurado kung anong mangyayari sa negotiation ng contract ko.” He has all the right to be nervous. It’s not easy to deal with loans when you have uncertainties about your source of income.

However, what Maliksi fails to realize is that his track record is solid. He has come back from an ACL injury twice before, making him equipped for a third straight victory over his familiar foe.

When he was soaring with the San Mig Coffee Mixers, all he talked about was hard work. Now that it has all been taken away from him, he still talks about hard work. His consistency, both in his shooting and in his work ethic will surely not go unnoticed by coach Cone and the team’s management.

“Basta ako sisiguraduhin kong sulit yung paghihintay ng team ko,” Maliksi closed as he opened his phone. He checked on his Twitter mentions. He saw that his fans were going to patiently wait for him too.