Robert Bolick is the type of guy to stand out in any crowd. It’s not just that he’s one of the best collegiate players in the country, not just that he’s played for flag and country, not just that he dropped 50 points in a single NCAA game last month. It’s that he owns it.
“I hate losing more than I like winning,” is one of the first things he ever told me.
“Walang gustong matalo, lalo na kapag San Beda ka, pati mga security guard sa school kukulitin ka kung bakit natalo,” he said on opening day.
“I just want to win the championship,” he said after the first round. “That’s our ultimate goal, not just for me but for my team. I’m happy about my individual achievements. If we don’t win the championship, I’ll forget about the fifty points. If we don’t win, I won’t want to remember this year.”
When you watch Bolick play, it’s clear he isn’t just there to win—he’s out to dominate. He has no time for false humility, either: he’s worked hard to get to this point, from playing in Ormoc to being benched by La Salle to being the undisputed King Lion of Season 94. But he also gives credit where credit is due. He’ll ditch the pabebe “swerte lang po” standard college player response (PSA to players: nobody believes this, guys) to instead talk about his teammates and what drives them.
“I have to thank my teammates. Everyone in the league knows that every one in San Beda is good. Without them, hindi ako makakakuha ng bola. Without them, hindi ako malilibre,” Bolick says. “I’m blessed to have teammates who are as skilled as them.”
Bolick is also glad that his journey took him to the NCAA. The Philippines’ oldest collegiate league is criminally underrated compared to the UAAP, where star players become celebrities who rack up Instagram endorsement deals and sponsorships, where opening day programs can budget for James Reid, K-Pop artists, and Steph-freaking-Curry.
At the recent NCAA All-Star Day, I recorded a podcast in the dugout and asked Bolick and the other All-Stars whether they feel like the casual fan is missing out by not paying enough attention to the NCAA. Here’s what he said:
“Ang NCAA at UAAP, the same thing lang ‘yan. Siguro ang UAAP lang has more sponsors. Pero at the end of the day, when you ask coaches they know kung anong klaseng team ang nandito sa NCAA,” he shared. “Ang daming players ng NCAA na nasa PBA. Ang dami na ring players na nag- represent ng country na galing NCAA. Kaya kung sa attention lang, honestly…honestly, I don’t care. Manood man sila o hindi, what matters to me is the championship.”
The plan is to graduate as a three-peat champion en route to a career in the pros, where he is already expected to be one of the top draft picks of 2018.
And PBA-ready, he is. As a PBA prospect, Bolick doesn’t just offer skills and talent, but the maturity and ballsiness that lets him nail the biggest shots in the biggest games. You get the sense that he won’t bowed if you match him up against an older player in the pros.
After all, this is a guy who, at less than thirteen years old, would wake up early to challenge grown-ass fishermen and farmers to play. Bolick likes a challenge, and to borrow a line from Black Panther, he never freezes.
For now, Bolick is lining up his dominoes. The better you get in college, the more prepared you’ll be for the PBA, the longer and more fruitful your career can be, and you need to keep learning along the way, so on and so forth. The journey never stops and neither will he. But as much as Bolick wants it all, he’s also taking it one step at a time:
“Ang PBA, dadating ‘yan sa tamang panahon. Right now, I want that championship.”