John Galinato has always loved taking on highly-acclaimed opponents.
When Galinato played for Chiang Kai Shek in smaller leagues, he would circle the dates a UAAP or NCAA team was on the schedule. He put in extra work to prepare for those battles, relishing opportunities to take down heralded teams. His mission was to show he and his team were just as good. Because he believed they were.
The Cebuano guard won championships with the CKSC Blue Dragons and bagged Most Valuable Player awards in the Filipino-Chinese Amatuer Athletic Federation (FCAAF) and the Metro Manila Basketball League (MMBL). Yet, he remained under the radar.
"He is one of the best-kept secrets in Philippine basketball," coach Joe Silva, who has won two championships in the UAAP juniors, said. "The only reason why he not as heralded as the other stars is because he doesn't study or play for a UAAP or an NCAA school."
Galinato did not have control over the leagues Chiang Kai Shek joined. But he could control where his career went next and he wanted to play in the UAAP to showcase his talents.
Because talent like Galinato's never remains unnoticed, the offers started piling up. Galinato chose the National University Bulldogs.
"Coach Jamike [Jarin] was the biggest reason I chose NU," Galinato said. "He told me how much he wanted me to be on his team, and that he would give me playing time."
That promise was immediately fulfilled as John impressed his new mentor. Against Gilas Pilipinas in the Filoil Flying V Preseason Cup presented by Chooks-To-Go, Jarin even gave his rookie the starting nod. The move paid off as Galinato played a crucial role in NU's 86-81 victory.
The incoming freshman had 20 points, three assists, and a steal while shooting 3-for-5 from behind the arc. That includes a three-pointer that resuscitated the Bulldogs when the Cadets made a late game run.
Gilas represented the teams Galinato looked forward to facing when he was in high school. Although the Gilas Cadets struggled in the tournament, the roster boasts the best young talents the country has to offer.
"I'm just very fortunate to have a talent like that," Jarin said. "Imagine him playing [in college] for the next five years. He's just going to get better and better. I'm sure everybody knew how good he is. Maybe they just didn't know how much of an impact he'll immediately make."
If they haven't yet, they'll soon find out.