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COVER STORY: Kevin Quiambao is living in the now

Kevin Quiambao isn’t a household name. Yet.

Cover Story is a series of profile features that put the spotlight on stories that need telling. These are the big names, those you’re already following on IG. If their names aren’t big yet, the bet is that they will be, eventually. In this very first volume of Cover Story, SLAM Philippines profiles Kevin Quiambao, the former NU Bullpup and current De La Salle Green Archer about to make his college debut in UAAP Season 85. He’s already made fans after his recent stint throwing insane passes while representing the flag for Gilas Pilipinas. KQ stock is rising.

WORDS by Kobe Dayao

Kevin Quiambao was on his way to signing the first sneaker deal of his career until I pulled up to him to ask some questions. A towering KQ—as he’s referred to by his teammates—had to sit a whole step lower on the bleacher seats of the practice gym just so he could be at eye level with me, the guy holding up a phone to his face.

This was the first time I’d met him, and impressions were quick to kick in. On Quiambao’s end, he probably had nothing bad to say or think about the man standing in front of him. Even if this man was holding him up from fulfilling the dream of signing with one of the biggest brands in the sport, he was cool with it. Because that’s just who he is. On the my end, I thought, “How is this kid so good, and so matured on and off the basketball court, but only now getting buzz?”

But then I realized that not a lot get a shot on the national team if they haven’t put in the work somewhere else. For guys like Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena, Rhenz Abando, and Carl Tamayo, they got their reps in from the collegiate ranks and all the way to the pros. They’re household names for a reason. We’ve seen them knock down clutch baskets, make jaw-dropping plays, and history-making shots that have cemented their names in both the hearts and minds of any Filipino fan who lives and breathes basketball. 

But Kevin Quiambao wasn’t a household name. Not a lot knew about KQ. 

At least not in the same way we knew those other guys. But when a player like Quiambao comes around, it doesn’t take much to have their names become a staple in any home. 

The last time Quiambao was on the map competing in the local scene, it was when he was running with the National University Bullpups with Carl Tamayo. A team that, I believe, is one of the most impressive teams assembled in recent memory. Juniors and seniors alike. Which makes standing out from the rest of the team even harder. But Quiambao did more than stand out. He blazed through a lot of the talent on that team. 

On his best days, he was arguably the most talented player on the roster. And even without the college or pro experience, that stint with a championship-winning team was enough for Quiambao to get the nod from the national team. And after his first game for Gilas Pilipinas, and a couple of dazzling passes and transition-buckets later, Kevin Quiambao let the whole country know that he had every reason to be on that team like everyone else on it. 

But even with the sudden rise of his hoops stock, Quiambao isn’t too keen on focusing on what else lies ahead. He tips his hat to his former team and former coach Goldwyn Monteverde for reminding him that what matters most, especially in a fast-paced career like basketball, is what you can and should do in the present. 

The first time I had seen Quiambao play was with that NU team. I watched him, at 6’4″, run up and down the court as if he was a 5’8” guard with the ball in his hands. Making layups with finesse and connecting on passes I couldn’t believe were squeezing through the tight and quickly-rotating defense. He’d throw lobs to Tamayo, or set him up in the post, and Tamayo would do the same. The dynamic of these untraditional big men was basketball in its purest form. No jazz or too much flash, just hoops and buckets. And having them both on the floor felt like winning the lottery…and then winning it again. So to have them on the same team again, and on the national team no less, it was going to be nothing short of a spiritual experience. For everyone. 

“Sobrang sarap sa feeling na makasama si Carl ulit. Syempre, three years ko siyang nakasama sa NU. ‘Yung mga memories naalala ko pa rin. Lalo na, mas tumitibay pa ‘yung chemistry namin kahit magkalaban kami sa UAAP. So, dito sa nationals, nabigyan kami ng pagkakatoong magkampi uli. Ang sarap sa feeling na makasama ko ulit ‘yung nakasama ko na mag-champion noon nung high school,” Quiambao said. 

Being able to learn from some of your boyhood idols isn’t something a lot of people have the privilege of. If you’re lucky, you meet them at a restaurant one day and get a souvenir photo, maybe a quick chat if you pray hard enough. But maybe you’re like Quiambao, and you not only learn from your idols, but also get to trade sweat with them in practice. Maybe you even get to call them a mentor or friend—Or both. Learning from the OGs is an incomparable experience. And KQ understands that. He relishes in it. 

“‘Yung mga natututunan ko dito, sigurado madadala ko naman kahit saan ako mag-laro. Kumbaga, ‘yung experience na nandoon, ‘yung exposure, na mas lalo pa ako mag laro ng maayos. Umangat ‘yung level ba. Sobrang laking factor nila [the OGs] kasi alam nila eh, napagdaanan nila ‘yun eh. So, ako, humble ako na natuturuan ako nila. Sobrang sarap sa feeling,” Quiambao said. 

When Quiambao gets on the court, there’s a certain calmness in his body language that just makes you feel at ease. He’s always looking to pass, to get his teammates involved and to set them up rather than himself. He runs the pick-and-roll with his guards so well that it feels like it’s always going to be the right play. If I had to put it into words, it feels like when you’re trying out a new barbershop and you explain to the barber what cut you wanna get, and he just breaks down the look exactly how you pictured it to be. So now, you don’t have to worry the entire time he’s holding up the clippers to your head. That’s how it feels with KQ on the floor. And maybe that’s something he learned from sharing the floor with another player who also commands the court whenever he’s on it. 

Actually sa player, si Kuya Kiefer [Ravena] talaga. Lahat naman kami nilo-look up namin siya. Sobrang laking factor sa amin, lalong lalo na sa akin, kasi ‘yung experience niya sa pro, nasha-share niya sa amin. Lahat ng mga na-experience niya sa kakampi niyang big man, ini-instill niya sa akin ‘yun,” Quiambao said. 

“Laging tumatatak sa akin ‘yung lagi niyang sinasabi sa akin, ‘Focus ka lang sa present, kung anong meron ngayon, ‘yun lang muna i-focus mo. ‘Wag mo muna isipin ‘yung nagkamali ka, ‘yung mga past mo, ‘wag mo muna isipin. Focus lang sa present.’ Ayun ‘yung lagi niyang sinasabi sa akin,” he added. 

In the present day, Quiambao has grown to be one of the most highly-regarded young stars in the country. It’s crazy to think how, just a couple years ago, he was in high school, probably defending his mini thesis and lining up at the cafeteria for lunch; how during the course of two years, we never heard much from him, and now he’s running with some of the best players in country at one of the biggest stages in basketball; and how he’s only just about to start what’s sure to be an extremely successful collegiate career. 

Safe to say, Quiambao’s bag is ready for college. It’s gotten deeper even with the two-year, almost three-year absence from the UAAP. He’ll be joining a De La Salle team that’s on the edge of claiming the top spot in the league. And will contribute to the stifling defensive schemes of coach Derrick Pumaren’s system. 

“Sa tingin ko nag fi-fit in ako sa reads, sa mga screens. Doon ako magaling eh. Kumbaga, doon ko bina-base laro ko. Buma-base ako sa mga screen ko, kung ano gagawin ko, and sa defense, lalo na sa defense. Kilala naman natin si coach Derek, defensive-minded coach ‘yan. So, gagawin ko lang best ko sa offense at defense,” Quiambao said. 

“Siguro mas na-realize ko sa sarili ko na stretch four ako. Kasi nung high school ako, almost center nilalaro ko lagi doon and, iba sa college eh. Iba sa college. ‘Yyung high school tapos na ‘yun. Ito, mag fo-focus ako sa role ko ngayon na stretch four sa DLSU,” he added. 

With KQ back in the UAAP, the proposition of a matchup between him and Tamayo is one I think everyone is looking forward to. We’ve seen them get buckets together, throw dimes to one another, and electrify the court on the same team. But to have them go head-to-head and battle it out on two of the best teams in the association? That’s exciting stuff even for Quiambao. 

“Syempre si Carl ang gusto ko ka-match. Sobra. Kasi in the past three years namin, di ko ma-maximize ‘yung potential ko na kalaban siya. Kumbaga di ko makita ‘yung sarili ko na kalaban siya. Gusto ko lagi kakampi siya dati, pero for now, siguro magkalaban talaga kami. And excited akong bantayan siya. Excited akong makatapat sila lalo na ‘yung UP,” he said enthusiastically. 

There’s still a lot we don’t know about Kevin Quiambao and this is why we should talk more about him. We don’t know how many double-doubles he’s going to net in his rookie year. How much hardware he’s going to take home during his college run. How many jaw-dropping plays he’s going to bless us with. Or how many history books he’s going to re-write during his career. We don’t know any of that. 

But the one thing we do know is that Kevin Quiambao is working on the present to prepare for the future. 

“Ma-expect sa akin ng fans is gagawin ko lang lagi best ko every game. And, ita-try namin ibalik ‘yung korona sa Taft.” 


(Photos by Vyn Radovan)