From the Archives: Arvin Tolentino is Born to Score

Before Arvin Tolentino turned into a fan favorite in the PBA, he was a struggling collegiate player who was simply finding his way in this crazy world called Philippine Basketball.

Despite the roller coaster ride he’s been in, one thing has been constant: Arvin Tolentino is Born to Score.

“Coach! Palaruin mo naman si Arvin! Let’s give him some confidence!” one of the noisy Ateneo fans in the gallery shouted that during the blowout win of the Blue Eagles against the Adamson Falcons during the first round.

Based on what fans were seeing, Arvin needed the confidence booster. After all, he’s been looked down on ever since he’s been relegated to a bench player during the 2nd round of action last season. The case has been the same this season, with him barely getting any minutes.

However, the ATrain destroyed all of those claims of lack of confidence with something that he said after the Ateneo-La Salle game last October 4, 2015.
Di naman sa pagmamayabang, but, I was born to score.”

Maybe at first, that quote makes Arvin look arrogant and pretentious. For a guy who barely gets playing time, who is he to say that he’s born to score? But if you ask me, yeah, he was born to score. During his freshman year, he showed shades that he was indeed born to score.

But his road to the Ateneo wasn’t as easy as it seems. There’s more to Arvin Tolentino than his perceived struggles academically, his scoring prowess, and his supposed attitude problems. In fact, if anything, those claims that people make about him don’t seem to be true at all.

This is Arvin Tolentino’s story. It’s quite a long one, so let’s buckle up and enjoy the ride, much like how he himself has enjoyed it.

Decision Making Time

When I met with Arvin in a café inside the confines of the Ateneo De Manila University, he looked relaxed. Chill. He is called Big Chill for a reason after all. But, despite being a blue-chip recruit out of High School, he looked unassuming as well. He didn’t look like a guy who was arrogant or demanding. He just looked like your typical 19-year-old College student. In fact, ever since he was a High School student he was already like that amidst all of the recruiting madness. Unassuming. Relax. Chill. You’d probably expect that he already had a school in sight as early as 3rd year High School, but that wasn’t the case for the 6’5” baller out of Rizal.

Wala eh,” he answered when asked about his dream college. “Kasi nung High School, wala akong iniisip (tungkol) sa college eh. ‘Di ko talaga alam na dito (Ateneo) ako mapupunta. Nagkaroon lang ako ng idea noong 4th year, noong nagstart na yung (pag)recruit.” For a guy who wasn’t too focused when it came to college, he was still constantly bugged by colleges as early as 3rd year High School.

It’s a given that the San Beda Red Lions would already start to talk to Arvin regarding college – he played for their Juniors’ basketball team after all. But aside from the Red Lions, the recruiters from Taft also approached Arvin as early as 3rd year High School. They weren’t laying any formal offers then and there. They were talking to him informally. But it was clear, they were interested in turning Arvin into a Green Archer.

Aside from those two schools, NU also came into play when it came to the Arvin Tolentino sweepstakes. The only problem was, the Henry Sy-backed school wanted an answer immediately. The Tolentinos couldn’t commit that early. They were still expecting offers from other schools, and of course, they would study those offers as carefully as possible. So obviously, NU was out of the running. Now he was left with La Salle and San Beda.

So where does Ateneo fit into the picture?

“Noong 4th year na ko, naglabasan na (yung mga recruiters), huli yung Ateneo bale.”

Ateneo turned out to be the last one to approach the Tolentinos. But the one who first talked to him was someone to who he could surely relate to.

Ang unang kumausap sa akin nuon si (Coach) Yuri. Bedista siya diba. So yung mga assistant coach namin sa Beda, kinuha number niya.” Despite the offer from Ateneo, Arvin still wasn’t keen on making any decision of sorts. “Sinabi ko rin sa mga coaches ko sa San Beda, ‘Coach, wag niyo ako patawagan. Walang kakausap sa akin until after the season.’ Pero ayun, yung La Salle kumakausap na sa akin. Pero sabi ko, para hindi na madagdagan yung stress sa kakaisip.” You couldn’t blame Arvin for being stressed out with the recruiting process. He was being cajoled as early as 3rd year High School. He was being asked to make a decision immediately. But he still had a team to lead for the NCAA Juniors Season 89 Championship. When the Red Cubs finally won that elusive crown, it was decision making time. 

“After the season, tumawag sa akin si Paolo Trillo. Si Paolo Trillo pa manager nuon. We had a dinner with Coach Bo and Coach Pao (Trillo), and then my family. The second time na nag-dinner, si Epok na yung kasama. Wala na si Pao.” With the recruiters simply awaiting his decision, it was time for Arvin to consider all the factors when it came to the school he would play for.

“Unang una talagang pinagbasehan namin, yung position ko sa team. Hindi yung position na, Power Forward, hindi yung ganuon. Kung ano yung kailangan ng team. Yung Ateneo, wala silang Power Forward, versatile forward.” But his possible position in the team wasn’t the only thing which lured him to Loyola Heights. He was going to be a STUDENT-ATHLETE after all, not just an athlete. “Siyempre ‘diba Ateneo na. One of the best schools, if not the best. Not only in studies, pero pati in sports. Hindi naman sa binababa ko San Beda. One of the best din naman San Beda. Pero yun, family’s decision. And, gusto ko rin talaga Ateneo.

Arvin had finally decided. Ateneo was his school of choice. Before the season started, analysts and basketball pundits had the San Beda High School legend slated for the starting Power Forward spot ahead of guys like Vince Tolentino, Gwyne Capacio, and GBoy Babilonia. But despite looking as if he was the next big thing for the Blue and White, nothing was going to come easy for the Rizal native. It was a new start for him. Even if that meant people within the basketball community already had an idea of who he was.

Mr. Shy Guy

As I continued to chat with Arvin, he slowly got more comfortable. He was no longer interlocking his fingers repeatedly which would cause the table to shake a bit, and he was more steady. Just sitting there, relaxed. But it was clear then and there; Arvin Tolentino, for all the fame, that he has is a really shy guy. This was definitely the case when he first entered the school for training. He wasn’t alone, however.

“Kasama ko nuon si Franz Abuda, yung teammate ko. Kasi, nahihiya ako eh. Sabi ko, ‘Tara samahan mo ako magtraining sa Ateneo.’ That time, pareho kaming graduating, and naghahanap din siya ng school. Kaya sabi ko, ‘Tara, tryout ka na rin dun.’” Despite being a newcomer to the school and the surroundings, Arvin was welcomed into the team as if he had been with them for quite some time now. This came as no surprise too, considering the man who welcomed him into the team was quite a public figure as well.

Si Kief (una nagwelcome). Naaalala ko pag akyat ko pa lang dito, nakita ko na si Kief. He smiled at me, (then he said), “Oy idol!” Yung mga pang-uto uto,” he shared while smiling. “Then andiyan sila Nico (Elorde), si Von (Pessumal). Yung mga veterans that time. Tapos si Thirdy, kasi teammate ko siya sa 3×3.” Other than Thirdy, other former teammates in the Blue Eagles at that time was GBoy Babilonia, who he was teammates with during his 2nd year. Fellow newly minted Atenean Hubert Cani was there as well, who was Arvin’s teammate in the Philippine U-13 team back then. But there was still an adjustment period for him despite all of the familiar faces. And it had nothing to do with the people he was in the team with.

“Nung una, medyo nangangapa pa ako. Iba. Iba kasi yung college eh. Kasi yung High School, pag lumalaki ang katawan ako, alam mo na diba. Eh dito, parang ordinary player lang ako. Start to zero ka ulitNa-realize ko na, kailangan ko pala mag work hard.” With Arvin’s hard work, the benefits showed immediately. “Before kami umalis nuon (for Vegas), nagkakaroon na kami ng tune up games. I was happy naman, kasi si Coach Bo, binibigyan din ako ng kumpiyansa nuon. He set plays for me, he lets me shoot the ball. Talagang lagi, sabi niya, ‘Tira mo lang. Tira mo lang.’ Dun na rin nag-start tumaas kumpiyansa ko. ‘Uy ito pala kailangan kong gawin. Ganyan, ganyan.’”

Adding to Arvin’s confidence was the fact that he had already faced similar competition during his days as a stalwart for the National Team. He mentioned that his experiences in the FIBA World’s U19 3×3 Competition and the Adidas Nations competition (Averaged 17.8 points there) helped him when it came to facing the competition in Vegas.

Coming into Season 77, Arvin knew very well that he had his work cut out for him despite his gained confidence after the preseason. “Experience sa laro,” he mentioned regarding his most pressing concern coming into college. “College, iba na eh. Sabi ko nga, malalaki na dito, malalakas na rin, magugulang na rin. Unlike sa High School kasi ako yung magulang, ako yung malaki. Eh dito (College), lahat eh.” But that didn’t mean that Arvin didn’t know what his strengths were. As a guy who’s 6’5” (Arguably even 6’6”), 210 pounds, he has the ideal size for a college ‘big man’. Plus, he has a skill set better suited for a guard and not a “big.” Talk about incredible. It was time to get the ball rolling for Arvin Tolentino.

Like a Freight Train

While I was interviewing Arvin, you could see some kids whispering to each other, “Uy, diba si Arvin Tolentino yun?” Yes, Ateneans knew who Arvin Tolentino was. After what he did last year during the 1st round, of course they would remember who he was.

Arvin started his college career on a HOT note, to say the least. He began by scoring 12 points against a young Adamson squad, and by pouring a 14-12 line against archrivals La Salle. He followed those two blazing hot performances with a 20-8 outing against the UP Fighting Maroons, and finally a 17-9 line against the #2 pick Troy Rosario and the NU Bulldogs. Arvin was clearly living up to the hype, and Arvin knew that his versatility helped with his production.

“Siguro yung #1 reason (kung bakit maganda performance ko) is the fact na maganda shooting ko from outside. Maganda yung percentage ko. Sa ganuong paraan, I can space the floor better for our guards, penetrators like Kief, Elorde, Newsome, diba, sila Von. And siyempre, if mag-help tao ko, puwede nila i-kickout sa akin, (to) shoot three or penetrate. Parang ganun din yung naging advantage namin last year.”

Of course it was a big advantage for the team to have a big like Arvin. The Blue Eagles were lacking in size during Season 77, so Arvin’s presence as a shooter helped the team space the floor greatly. That’s exactly what Arvin’s role was. He would be a pick and pop threat, since he is a stretch 4 (even 5). Despite his monster production during the first round, not much plays were actually being set for him then. After all, he was a rookie and Ateneo had the triumvirate of Kiefer, Chris Newsome and Nico Elorde to lead the offense of the Blue Eagles. But then, for all of his excellence on offense, it was clear that he had more problems to face other than experience in playing the college game.

The Struggle Is Real

Before Arvin stepped into the halls of the Ateneo de Manila, pundits already made it clear; he was an offensive juggernaut. He’s crazy good in offense. AS IN. But, when it came to his defense, it was the complete opposite. His defense was HORRENDOUS. It was clear from the get-go that it was. His defense on imports was actually pretty good, but when it came to the locals? It was bad. There’s a reason for that, apparently.

“Ang dami ng stretch 4 sa UAAP, halos lahat ata,” Arvin lamented regarding his defensive woes. Jason Perkins. Troy Rosario. Mac Belo. Those are three elite big men who can be considered stretch 4s. Those three elite big men pretty much burned Arvin every time they went up against the former Bedan. Even Arvin’s previous experience of playing against guards and forwards in College couldn’t help him when it came to defending the stretch 4s of the UAAP. “Dito (UAAP, yung mga bigs), mas malaki, mas mabigat.” Apparently, that wasn’t the only problem Arvin had to deal with.

For reasons unknown, ATrain’s playing time suddenly dipped during the second round of action. Many fans were left baffled as to why he wasn’t being played. Sure his defense was bad, but his offense was simply out of this world. His lack of playing time led to his production dipping as well, and it was just downhill for the blue-chip recruit from there. It hasn’t gotten any easier this season.

From being a starter on a team lacking big men, Arvin has been relegated to a bench big who plays sparingly. He’s only averaged 9.1 minutes per game this season, definitely, a downfall compared to his 22.5 minute per game average last season. This season, he’s been more respectable when it’s come to the defensive end. His offensive game is still superb. The fans knew about this. They wanted something to be done about it. This then led to…


I’m pretty sure you’ve seen it one way or another. I won’t say it’s all over the Internet, but fans have used a hashtag similar to that one way or another. #FreeArvin #PlayArvin, you name it. The fans wanted more Arvin Tolentino. For all of his warts on defense, he was still very entertaining to watch. Plus, he’s pretty good at putting the ball in the basket too. One way or another, the coaches must have had an idea that the plea for Arvin to get minutes was high. Fans wanted to #FreeArvinTolentino. The coaches probably knew it. Arvin knew it himself as well.

Noong una, naisip ko parang, ‘Ano, nakakulong ba ako?’” he said jokingly. “‘#FreeArvinTolentino, ano ba ginagawa sa akin? ‘Di naman ako nakakulong sa Ateneo ha..’ Pero siguro, the people want more of me. Hopefully, pag nabigyan ako ng chance and coach decides to play me longer, sana makapagdeliver ako.” Despite the pleas of the people for Arvin to get more minutes, he knows what his priority is as a player: the team.

Coming into the season, Arvin himself didn’t expect to get many minutes. For one, the system placed by the coaching staff was something that did not exactly cater to him. From a run ‘n gun system last Season 77, the team now employs a system that focuses on defense. Given his struggles on defense, of course, he wouldn’t be getting minutes ahead of better defenders like Ponzo Gotladera and GBoy Babilonia. But if anything, this has motivated Arvin to work even harder. He hasn’t demanded minutes, but instead, he’s decided to work hard for those minutes. Those minutes will have to come from Coach Bo Perasol himself, who, contrary to popular belief, has actually had a good relationship with Arvin ever since.

“Okay naman,” Arvin replied when asked regarding his relationship with the Ateneo Blue Eagles Head Coach. “Pareho lang nung dati. Wala namang nangyari, ‘di naman kami nag-away.” Considering Coach Bo was Arvin’s coach as a rookie, AT has treated Coach as his second father as well. “If I did something wrong, ico-correct niya, if I did something right, parang ma-aappreciate niya.” It’s clear that Arvin respects whatever decisions Coach Bo makes for the team. During my interview with him, he would continuously reiterate that coach is the one who knows more than him. The same can be said when it comes to approaching team captain Kiefer Ravena.

“Kief, lagi nandiyan yan. I-momotivate ka niya, i-inspire ka niya to do better. Lagi niya ako nire-remind, ‘Let’s work hard together, be one team.’ He knows what I can do on the court.” But as motivating as Kiefer can be, his competitive animosity has also shown as well, especially when it has come to guiding Arvin. “Sometimes nagiging hard din sa akin si Kief. Pero I understand naman. He just wants to do what’s best for me. He pushes me to the limit. I’m thankful may ganun klase akong teammate na nag-lelead sa akin.” With an amazing supporting cast around him, and people who will teach him the right things to do, sooner or later, the #FreeArvinTolentino movement will be successful. His minutes may be inconsistent right now, but his confidence is always there.

Born To Score

Let me refresh you with something I mentioned early on in the article.

Di naman sa pagmamayabang, but, I was born to score.”

A line that exudes confidence. Some will even say Arvin is quite brash for saying something like this. But that’s the thing with Arvin Tolentino. Despite all of the hardships that he has gone through, he still remains confident. He still welcomes the challenges that come to him.

“(My greatest strength is) self-confidence. Yung pagiging palaban. Yung lakas ng loob kasi, kailangan din yan. ‘Di lang kailangan puro talent, ‘di lang self-confidence. Kailangan din lakas ng loob. Na-eenjoy ko yung mga challenges. Yung iba natatakot, pero ako, the harder the challenge, the more excited I am.” With more challenges coming his way, expect Arvin to simply run over them like the ATrain that he is. Sooner or later, Arvin will be freed. Arvin’s struggles will result to successes in the future. Arvin will be dominating again. He wasn’t only born to score. He was born as well to soar above all his struggles. He was born to shine. Sooner or later, he will. Just wait.

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