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Mark Nonoy is primed to retake the wheel

Mark Nonoy is having a new moment with a new squad, and he’s primed to regain control of his destiny.

For a moment in time, it seemed like Mark Nonoy was speeding past his peers en route to an illustrious collegiate career.

Remember that moment in time? Before the insanity that we’re currently living in? Back when it seemed as if the only semblance of insanity we had was the sound of 20-something thousand UAAP fans cheering on their respective teams while the college drumlines echoed the bass from the heavens?

Mark Nonoy should know a thing or two about delirium in the UAAP. He was at the center stage of that very setting in Season 82, back when he was a rookie in that beloved, upstart UST Growling Tigers squad that went from being a cute story of a fourth seed, to challenging the Ateneo dynasty in the finals.

Nung nakapasok na kami ng finals, parang ‘di namin ine-expect na aabot kami sa ganito kasi halos lahat kami mga rookies,” Nonoy recalled when asked about what he remembered most from that season. “Pero pinaghirapan talaga namin ‘yun. Nasunog talaga kami sa stepladder round sa pagod, pero para sa’kin, ‘yun talaga ‘yung pinakamaganda naming performance, sa Final Four.”

He is, of course, talking about the stepladder rounds that the Tigers had to hurdle past being the last team to clinch a Final Four spot in Season 82. UST’s postseason run that year reached its apex when they defeated a star-studded UP Fighting Maroons team in Round 2, clawing their way up from a twice-to-beat disadvantage to reach their first finals since 2015.

In a team that featured veteran guard Renzo Subido, MVP Soulemane Chabi Yo, highlight machine Rhenz Abando, and homegrown sophomore CJ Cansino, Nonoy held his own as one of the team’s pillars with his impeccable knack for scoring and incomparable foot speed. Despite his 5’8″ stature, Nonoy is unfazed even by the biggest of opponents in the biggest of stages, typified by a 26-point explosion in Game 1 of their Season 82 Finals matinee against Ateneo.

That campaign resulted in Rookie of the Year honors for Nonoy, but he expressed his lack of contentment after failing to capture that elusive championship. In fact, UST had already started their shot for redemption in the 2020 PBA D-League Aspirants’ Cup, where Nonoy shared how the coaches leveraged that time before a supposed Season 83 to work on his points of refinement. “Ina-adjust ko talaga ‘yung pag-set ko ng mga play,” Nonoy expressed his desire to improve upon being a leader of the offense. “Kasi bara-bara pa ako ‘nun, ‘di ko pa control ang speed ko. ‘Yun ang sinabi sakin ni Coach [Aldin Ayo] na dapat i-adjust ko at i-apply sa laro ko.

This level of maturity and self-awareness is certainly amiable for a UST team that lost the graduating Renzo Subido, but was looking to hand the keys to the offense to Nonoy in their transition to contender status. Just when it was time for Nonoy to grab hold of the steering wheel, the uncontrollable street lights of life glared upon the EspaƱa-based squad by way of a global pandemic and an infamous training bubble that led to the exodus of pieces of a team that could’ve won it all.

Nonoy was blinded. Not because of the brightness of his and the team’s future that once was, but because of the speed in which these unfortunate events transpired. “Masakit, syempre. Para sa akin kasi, ‘yun ‘yung team na mag-chachampion na talaga kasi doon na ‘yung kumpiyansa namin at tiwala namin sa isa’t isa,” he lamented. “Sobrang nakakalungkot lang kasi wala sa control namin ‘yung mga pangyayari ‘nun.

The pandemic, the drama, the situation: all of it had already reached a point of irreversibility, but Nonoy was determined to regain control of the wheel. Given his extremely strong showing in his rookie campaign, it didn’t take long for him to find a new home in Taft where he committed to play for the DLSU Green Archers.

While he discussed how a number of well-established basketball programs inquired about his services during the lull period after his exit from the Tigers, he eventually made it clear as to why he decided to don the Green and White. “Naging isa sa magandang decision ko talaga na piliin ang La Salle,” exclaimed a clearly excited Nonoy as he began talking about his unexpected yet highly anticipated detour to the green side.

While he was entering an entirely new community in La Salle, there remain aspects that Nonoy finds very familiar, for better or worse. Here was a Green Archers team that had been constantly in roster and coaching flux ever since their own exodus of personnel in late 2017. Coincidentally, that was also the last year the Archers were in the Final Four. Since then, key veterans have come and gone, most notably the championship-level combo of Aljun Melecio and Andrei Caracut.

If it hasn’t been established yet by now, Nonoy isn’t exactly a stranger to adversity. If there’s anybody who knows a thing or two about helping a basketball program get back on track, he’s your guy. In fact, one of the reasons why he chose La Salle was to help in filling in those large shoes left by his backcourt predecessors. “Last year na ‘rin kasi nina Aljun [Melecio] at Andrei [Caracut],” explained Nonoy, as he went on to express his excitement in playing with fellow transferee Evan Nelle. “Nandoon na rin si Evan [Nelle] at that time, so kailangan ‘din nila ng isa ‘pang guard.”

Nonoy also attributes his decision to want to play for Derrick Pumaren, who makes his return to DLSU as the head coach. The time-withstanding Pumaren Press draws similarities to Aldin Ayo’s mayhem defense that Nonoy has grown accustomed to. “Nakapag-adjust naman kami agad kasi priority talaga lagi ni coach is ‘yung defense,” discussed Nonoy on how much the team has bought in to Manong’s style of play.

Now, talking about that patented press defense is one thing. It’s another to be able to stay in shape in the first place to play to that level, especially in an elongated offseason where pandemic-induced restrictions are aplenty.

Nonoy shared how he even had to ask permission from a mayor in his hometown of Negros Occidental to just be able to get some shots up with his sibling. While he goes the extra mile to stay in basketball condition, Coach Pumaren also made sure to do the same for his Archers by regularly conducting Zoom training sessions with the team. Hell, even Zoom boxing sessions were held exclusively hosted by a third Phillips brother. The family ties run deep with this team.

The rebranded Archers rode that preparation high when they netted off three straight wins to begin Season 84. For Mark Nonoy, it also gave him a sense of relief after what had transpired in the couple years prior. “Sobrang na-excite ako, na-feel ko ‘yung na-miss ko talaga ‘yung paglaro ng basketball officially ulit sa UAAP,” expressed Nonoy when asked about the feeling of finally playing again after a couple of tumultuous years he wants to leave behind. “Kahit walang crowd ‘nun, parang feeling mo na ang dami paring nanonood. Sobrang thankful talaga ako.

Ginagawa ko lang kung anong sinasabi sakin ni coach, at doon na rin yung trust namin as teammates,” added Nonoy. “Kaya naging maganda ‘yung takbo ng team, tsaka ‘nung debut ko as a Lasallian. Masarap sa feeling.

In the same way that the team has enjoyed gutsy victories featuring different players at center stage every game, La Salle has likewise fallen victim to several heart-wrenching losses, including a couple of second-half miscalculations against archrival Ateneo and an equal number of heartbreakers against UP that has left them still looking for answers against the lone two teams ahead of them.

Kailangan talaga namin mahanap ‘yung consistency,” stressed Nonoy on their late-season mishaps. “Kasi kapag makuha na namin ‘yun, magiging maganda ‘yung resulta ng season namin.

Nevertheless, as DLSU returns to familiar territory in the Final Four for the first time since the Mayhem era, Nonoy remains steadfast in his belief that the Archers maintain a nice, clear aim at the title. “Gagawin namin lahat ng makakaya namin para maganda ‘yung kinalabasan ng season for the school,” reaffirmed Nonoy.

For a moment in time, Nonoy had the perfect blueprint ahead of him, of a prestigious UAAP career being on the precipice of a championship team. But if there’s anything that the pandemic has taught us, it’s those moments that fleet much faster than Nonoy can run. In this brief time so far where we’re seeing a sliver of normalcy, Mark Nonoy is having a new moment with a new squad, and he’s primed to retake the wheel. He is familiar with the directions now, after all.