Go H.A.R.D.: Kiefer Ravena reflects on his rookie journey

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Kiefer Ravena knows the power of clothes. At the 2017 PBA Draft, he opened his blue suit jacket to reveal a lining made from his Ateneo jersey, sending a message to the public—this is a guy who’ll rep where he came from, shoutout to the Ateneans, AMDG 4 LYF. On Friday, he made the game-winning shot for the NLEX Road Warriors against the Meralco Bolts wearing a custom pair of Nikes. Pristine white shoes trimmed with orange and blue—team colors—and a word embroidered inside his right shoe: HARD.

This one isn’t a message to anyone else, but a reminder to himself.

“Ever since, isa ‘yan sa mantra ko sa buhay,” Ravena explains. “Humility, Appreciation, Respect, and Dedication.” The admittedly superstitious Ravena will wear these shoes as often as he can. He was wearing a different pair during one of the games in the Road Warriors’ January slump, and before the first half ended, he was sending for The Shoes.

Ravena has had both highs and lows in his first few months in the PBA—a Christmas Day win, a four-game losing streak in January, then big wins against Barangay Ginebra and Meralco. Some nights he’s been off on shooting, but then others he’ll be burying the big shots that remind people just why he’s called The Phenom.

Throughout it all, he tells himself to enjoy the ride.

“Noong una, surreal pa lahat ng nangyayari kasi simula pa noong bata ako, ito na pangarap ko. Ngayon, nandito na ako bilang trabaho, bilang livelihood,” Ravena says. “At the same time ine-enjoy ko kasi kahit saan, kahit sino tanungin mo, malaking bagay yung araw-araw kang pumupunta sa trabaho nang masaya at gusto mo yung ginagawa mo.

Fitting in with the Road Warriors was no trouble for the rookie. There’s a joke to be made here about how he is one of six Ateneans on the team, that even their uniforms are still blue and white. But there’s also a lightness to the way the team is during practices.

Older players on the squad say it’s common for PBA teams to break off into cliques: May Group A, may Group B, kanya-kanya. Not on NLEX, where Coach Yeng Guiao’s equal opportunity rotation and affinity for overlooked players places seasoned vets and young upstarts on equal footing. You hear it from each Road Warriors—“parang pamilya.”

Ravena may be The Phenom, but at practice, he’s just one of the guys. One of the people he looks up to the most, he says, is Asi Taulava.

“Naging teammate pa siya ng dad ko, so nakita niya akong lumaki at alam niyang pangarap ko ito simula noong bata pa ako. Pagka-draft pa lang, naging guide na siya sa akin,” says Ravena. “Twenty years in the PBA—it takes a lot of dedication, sacrifices, hard work to do what he did. Sana career ko maging kasing-haba ng sa kanya. Kung pwede, why not, diba?”

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People tend to wonder how college superstars will adapt to life in the PBA. Can they play away from the ball? Will they continue to impress once pitted against the best in the country?

For his part, Ravena has embraced the perspective that he doesn’t have to be a star, just a guy who Gets The Job Done, the guy whose left shoe has another word embroidered inside—”TGBTG,” short for “To God Be The Glory”—a humble perspective he gained from his time in America, following a team around on his own dime for the chance to practice with them.

“People don’t realize that it wasn’t just basketball skills that I tried to develop in America. It was also life skills that come from knowing I was all alone without anybody to help me. Sa pinakasimpleng bagay na maglilinis ng kwarto, maghuhugas ng pinggan,” he says.

“Learning to communicate with people of different races, different backgrounds, different cultures. Just like sa team ngayon, iba kami ng mga pinanggalingan but we all have the same goal which is to try to win the first championship for NLEX.”

Photos courtesy NLEX Road Warriors

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