SJ BELANGEL: Recapturing His Basketball Passion Through Passion Sports

Written By: Zerjosh Serrano and Paul Tamayo


It doesn’t take a lot of research to know that Ateneo Blue Eagle SJ Belangel is a winner. In the two years that he has played in the UAAP Seniors prior to the pandemic, SJ has won two championships with Ateneo.

But behind the glamour and the accolades that come from winning a UAAP championship, SJ has had his share of struggles and hardships. Most people don’t know this but SJ actually came from the province before he was recruited to Ateneo. Born in a basketball-oriented family, he always had the unwavering support of his father, who is a coach and a former player in Bacolod.

SJ during his HS year with his very supportive dad Sam.

“My family is very basketball-oriented. Lahat sila naglalaro ng basketball, even my younger sister and my mother. Pero kay papa talaga ako natuto mag-basketball. I was nine years old when I studied in a small private university. Wala talagang basketball program yung school namin pero si papa yung nag-convince sa principal na gumawa ng basketball team para maging active din sa sports ang mga bata.

I remember my very first career basketball game. Hindi nila ineexpect na makakascore ako nang malaki. Sabi nila kahit two points okay na. Then I scored 25 points agad in my first game. Since then, nagtuloy-tuloy na yung magandang laro ko.”

SJ would then be recruited to play for La Salle-Bacolod in grade school. However, a complication forced him to reconsider his options, and SJ decided to transfer to a school in Iloilo, where his uncle was also coaching.

SJ was only in 7th grade back then, and he had to travel alone. That is one of the hardships that student-athletes have to go through: being away from their family for a long period of time.

Batang Gilas at FIBA Asia Tournament in 2015 vs Korea. Photo credits to

“As a young kid, I had to travel alone. Nasa dorm ako na mag-isa. Luckily, nandoon din yung tito ko at coach din siya doon. But at a very young age, I had to make a lot of decisions in life. Bata pa lang ako pero malaki na yung pinanghahawakan ko para sa future ko.”

SJ’s high school basketball career would take on new heights when he was recruited to Ateneo. It was not an easy decision to make as his family didn’t know anyone here in Manila. But SJ never backs down from a challenge, and playing in the UAAP gave him the opportunity to pit his skills among the best young players in the country.

But even with all the support and the resources that Ateneo provides to its student-athletes, SJ points out that they have to earn everything that’s given to them. The young Ateneo point guard says that people don’t see all the hardships and sacrifices that student-athletes make on a daily basis.

“Hindi kami magiging successful kung walang paghihirap na mangyayari. Hindi naman madali ang buhay. Lahat kailangan paghirapan. Hindi naman agad na kapag sinabi na Ateneo, champion agad. Oo, one reason kung bakit nag-join ako sa Ateneo ay yung winning tradition dito. Every game masasabi mo na lalaban ang Ateneo.

Pero hindi nakikita ng mga tao yung mga hardships na pinagdadaanan namin. Hindi mo naman makukuha yung suporta kung hindi mo paghihirapan. Kahit sabihin nila na sure win palagi, hindi nila nakikita yung paghihirap ng bawat player at coach. Hindi siya madali talaga.”

After winning two championships in his first two years at Ateneo, SJ’s basketball momentum was cut short by the pandemic. With the new UAAP season being cancelled and pick-up basketball games not allowed, SJ found it difficult to maintain his passion for playing the sport that he loves the most.

SJ is one of the best finisher and knockdown shooter in the UAAP. A very reliable player especially during crunch time. Photo credits to Slam Philippines

Fortunately, SJ discovered Passion Sports through his former Ateneo teammate Mike Nieto. Mike is logging in individualized training session with Passion Sports, which is spearheaded by Coach Rob Labagala, a former UAAP and PBA player.

SJ says that it was Coach Rob and Passion Sports who helped bring back his joy in playing basketball.

“Since pandemic, nahirapan ako hanapin yung passion ko sa basketball. Hindi na kasi nakakapaglaro, tapos puro weights na lang at pagpapalaki sa bahay. Iba pa rin kasi talaga yung nakakapaglaro ka.

Luckily, noong dinala ako ni kuya Mike (Nieto) sa Passion Sports, nagkaroon ulit ako ng hope and fire sa loob ko na maglaro ulit ng basketball at mag-training. Yung Passion Sports ang nagbigay ng boost sa akin ulit. Game-like talaga ang turo ni Coach Rob (Labagala). Ituturo niya sa akin yung mga nangyayari sa game at yung mga dapat gawin ko. Then nagdadagdag din siya ng mga bagay na dapat ko ma-improve sa laro ko.

Most importantly, yung Passion Sports hindi lang naka-limit sa mga athletes na kakilala nila. Knowing Coach Rob, it’s about helping other people talaga. Super blessed ako na I’m one of the players training under Passion Sports.”


To give a fitting conclusion to our conversation, SJ provided a very helpful piece of advice for aspiring athletes: find your purpose in whatever sport you are in.

“For me, you just have to find your goal and motivation in life. Ano ba ang purpose mo? What’s your dream? Then doon na papasok yung mga kailangan mo gawin para ma-achieve yung goals mo. Also, don’t forget to put God first in our life. Siya yung magbibigay ng guidance sa pag-achieve ng goals natin.

Lahat tayo nahihirapan pero lahat kinakaya. Ganyan talaga ang Pinoy. Kahit anong hirap ng pagsubok, lalaban tayo.”


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