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My rookie season, as told by Rain or Shine Elasto Painters' Javee Mocon

Javee Mocon had a solid rookie season for the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters. Ernie Sarmiento/ESPN5

Javee Mocon made the transition to the PBA look easy.

The 25-year-old Mocon, through bumps and all, averaged 10.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 2.6 assists in 27.1 minutes and 48 solid games in his first year and earned a spot on the 2019 All-Rookie team. As impressive as his freshman season was on paper, Mocon says he's already eyeing a jump to the next level, and hopefully a title with Rain or Shine in the near future.

What was it like getting selected in the 2018 PBA Draft?

Honestly, 'nung Draft Day hindi ko talaga alam kung saang team ako mapupunta. Personally, I would've chosen sa isang MVP team kasi San Beda is an MVP-sponsored school. And then may mga pre-draft talks na mapupunta ako sa Meralco or NLEX, pero never sa Rain or Shine. Nakapag-practice pa ko sa Meralco twice and sa Phoenix, pero sabi ni Coach Louie [Alas] malabo ako mapunta sa Phoenix (at no. 12). Come Draft Day, unexpected lahat kasi ang daming nangyari -- 'yung ginawang pick and trades ni Coach Yeng [Guiao], maraming nagulat, and Meralco chose Trevis Jackson, I think they wanted to have a point guard.

So you went to Rain or Shine without having ever talked to them before?

Yeah, wala talaga. Walang communication, nothing at all. Pag-upo ko sa table nila, sinabihan ako ni Coach Caloy [Garcia] na, "Hindi namin ine-expect mapupunta ka sa'min. We were expecting you to be drafted fourth or fifth." Ako naman, coming off a great year in San Beda -- not to be boastful or anything like that, pero -- I expected to go sa fourth or fifth pick. Pero 'yun ang nangyari eh. It's a blessing in disguise, I guess. For me, may disappointment 'nung una. Pero that's a chip on my shoulder, and I wanted to prove to people that I'm way better than they think I am, that I'm more than their expectations.

You played the second-most minutes among all locals. Did you have any early conversations with Coach Caloy regarding your role as a rookie?

At the start of the season, nung first conference binigyan niya ko ng konting minutes. They were easing me into the professional level. At the same time, backup ako ni James Yap. Pero before the conference started, I told myself I can be a defender, I can be a scorer, I can be a rebounder. So I think dun nakuha ni Coach Caloy 'yung confidence na ipasok ako sa first conference. Sa second conference, naging dahan-dahan pa 'yung paglaki ng trust niya sa'kin.

Can you take us through the emotions you had during your first PBA game?

Ang naalala ko lang eh sobrang excited ako. I remembered my first NCAA game, ganun 'yung feeling ko. Sobrang excited, sobrang gigil talaga. Ang dami kong turnovers kasi gusto ko i-prove agad na kaya ko makipag-compete sa other players. I was excited because I was competing with the best players in the Philippines. Ganun na mentality ko ever since. (Mocon had 13 points and five rebounds in 18 minutes.)

At the same time, hindi ko makakalimutan si kuya Beau (Belga) may dalang rice na nasa Tupperware, tapos kakabili lang niya ng Jollibee na may extra rice rin (laughs).

Let's talk about the adjustments that you had to make entering the PBA. How difficult were they?

It was hard. I had to rebuild everything -- from my physique to my skills to techniques. I've been playing as a power forward ever since high school and throughout my basketball career, so it was like breaking down and rebuilding to have better features against other players. I also needed to transition into a guard since I was too small to be a big man. Iba talaga 'yung movement, iba 'yung techniques and skills na kailangan mo to be playing as a guard in the PBA. I had to really recreate myself.

I remembered nung last year ko sa San Beda, I suggested kay coach Boyet (Fernandez) na i-play niya ko sa three position kasi I was looking at the bigger picture na in the pros, hindi ako pwede maglaro as a big man. In the preseason, he let me play the 3 pero limited minutes lang. Kahit alam kong onti 'yung minutes na 'yon, I knew they'd make a big difference for me. Pero pagdating ng season, nagbago na lahat. I played the whole NCAA season as a four man.

Nung big man din ako sa San Beda, I took few threes, mga once or twice in a game. Kapag dalawa, sumosobra na. Quota na ko. (laughs) 'Yung three-point shots and pick-and-rolls, I really studied and practiced that in the preseason kasi alam ko these are the things I need in the game to transition from a big man to a small forward or a shooting guard.

What were the toughest challenges you had to make in your move to the pros?

Very frustrating 'nung una, ang dami kong turnovers 'nung first PBA conference ko. Daming lessons na I had to learn. Sina Kuya Beau, Coach Caloy were really tough on me sa mga errors ko kasi I think they see potential in me, na very raw pa 'yung talent ko. But I'm like a sponge -- ina-absorb ko lang lahat ng sinasabi nila sa'kin and hindi ko tina-take as a negative. I had to watch a lot of film sa mga nilaro ko and mga nilalaro ng mga other PBA players to catch up sa mga na-miss kong oras to be playing in that position.

The frustrating part there was in practices. Kahit I was always early, I was the first player in and the last player out, kahit I was putting in the hours, the results weren't what I expected them to be. Iniisip ko lagi after a bad game or if may errors ako na sobrang pang-grade school, I just thought to myself that I had to look at the small progress and the positives and celebrate them.

How much help did you get from the veterans?

(Former assistant) coach Don Dulay was one of the very first people who initiated to help me improve my game. I was early in practices, so parang 'yun 'yung time slot ko to have one-on-one practices with him. I really appreciated that. When he went to MPBL to coach Davao, pinalitan siya ni coach Chris Gavina and nag-start din 'yung relationship namin. I think they are coaches who like players that are really working hard.

Syempre sina kuya Gabe [Norwood] and si kuya Beau, kuya James Yap and the others, they gave me a lot of advice. Especially si kuya Gabe, he's such a genuine guy. In every bad game or bad loss na na-experience namin, after ng game pag-uwi ime-message ka niya asking how you are. Coming from a veteran na matagal na sa PBA at Gilas at i-message ka ng ganun, magkakaroon ka ng mentality na babawi ka talaga next game because you know they have your back kahit anong mangyari.

Coach Caloy, of course, is also a big factor kung bakit ganun ang nilaro ko in the first season kasi he played me in my strengths. He put me in a position where I can decide the best possible outcome sa isang situation. He gave me a lot of minutes, pero gradually -- I really had to earn my minutes.

What are things you learned about the PBA, its players and/or coaches that you didn't know before?

Na-realize ko sa PBA, iba 'yung scouting. People watch every player talaga, especially 'yung mga katapatan nila. I remember having this game against San Miguel where I had 17 rebounds (Mocon had 18 points, 17 rebounds and four assists in a 108-98 win). Playing against my idols was enough motivation for me to really prove to them na I'm here now, I'm a professional player, 'di lang basta-basta na role player, and that I wanted to have what they have. Pero after that, medyo dowhill. After 'yung game na 'yun, kapag may tumira na kakampi ko, naka-face up na siya and he wasn't even looking at the ball. Ako naman inisip ko, bakit iba na bantay nila sa'kin? (laughs)

I also realized after my first year na hindi naman kailangan malaki katawan o mabigat, but it's about the technique na ginagawa nila to use their body to gain advantages over the other player. Like Alex Cabagnot, grabe gumamit ng katawan, alam niya where to position his body. For sure, physique is a big factor in the game, but the technique differentiates a good player from a great player.

At hindi naman ako nagrereklamo, but in my own opinion, I don't get calls at all. Nag-start 'yun sa practice, dun pa lang I don't get calls talaga even if I drove hard to the basket and narinig nila 'yung hampas. Wala, no calls, nothing. Tapos coming to the game, same thing. Nagulat ako, naisip ko, 'Ganun ba talaga kapag rookie?' It went on from the first conference until the last conference, it was the same thing. When I'd see a superstar player driving to the basket, onting sigaw lang or onting galaw lang ng katawan, they'd get calls. I get naman na they're household names in the PBA, they made their name and they probably deserve it. But 'di ako nagco-complain ah! Ina-appreciate ko lang kung paano sila nakarating doon. (laughs)

Could you name some favorite/memorable moments you had during that rookie year?

The out-of-town games were a new experience, a great experience actually -- seeing all the players, new faces, mga 'di mo nakikita sa usual venues natin and the journey going there, the bonding with the teammates, the whole thing was a great experience. It was very memorable. We had two out-of-town games and it was really great.

Pati 'yung [Rookies-Sophomores vs. Juniors Game] sa All-Star Weekend [in Pangasinan.] Nag-choke si [Jason] Perkins. Naalala ko inaasar siya ni Kevin Ferrer and he missed thrice in the free-throw line (in the final 3.3 seconds with the team down one against the Juniors). And then may tapikan sa rebound, nakuha ni CJ [Perez[, he took the shot but missed, and then I just did what I did best: I went in there and got the board and I tapped it in. That was very memorable. It was my first official buzzer-beater game.

And then I had my first dunk in my whole career. It was against NorthPort. In my college days, lagi ko iniisip, "Kailan kaya ako makaka-dunk?" Before games, iniisip ko, "Eto na, da-dunk na ko" pero never nangyari. 'Di ko alam 'yung difference eh. Siguro because I was playing the guard position and I had that opportunity to run the break instead of getting the rebound and passing the ball. Plus I also changed my diet, my workouts, so I think that really helped.

You also made the Gilas Pilipinas pool for the first window of the FIBA World Cup Asia qualifiers. How did that feel?

It was a real privilege and a blessing. Ever since talaga, it's been my dream to represent the Philippines internationally, tapos among many players in the Philippines and in the PBA ako pa 'yung napili. It was a great experience.

I felt a bit disappointed when I got cut. I was the only PBA player cut in the pool eh, tapos naisip ko sa sarili for a bit na, "Mas magaling ba 'yung ibang college players sa'kin?" But there were no hard feelings towards anyone naman. I just looked at the silver lining and it really just served as a motivation for me to keep growing my game and to be ready in the future.

How do you plan to take your game to the next level?

For now, I'm just controlling what I can control. Walang basketball courts na available and rings to shoot at (during the coronavirus disease pandemic), so I'm practicing with my brother. He's been training me this quarantine, like dribbling, kasi point guard ang nilalaro niya sa MPBL under coach Don Dulay. I'm getting tips from him. And we've been watching a lot of basketball videos on NBA players, PBA players, and then we dissect every move and practice them. We started from the fundamentals to make that strong foundation, and when we have that foundation, we can derive variations from it, like 'yung crossovers and everything else. I'm very excited to get back to the season again to show how I improved a lot.

Any positive takeaways from your first year that you can carry into this season?

I think, first and foremost, my mentality, that killer mentality to always wanna win the game. Even practice games. Si Beau nga inaasar ako lagi kapag natatalo 'yung team ko. Kunwari 0-2 ako sa game, 'di na niya ako makausap, tapos si Beau mang-aasar. Alam mo naman si Beau, mapang-asar eh. (laughs) 'Yung mentality, I'm gonna bring it in my second year until I retire.

And people don't expect a lot from Rain or Shine because we're a small team compared to the other teams. I guess when people say, "Quarterfinals lang 'yan, hanggang diyan lang yan", that drives me to look at the bigger picture na, "Hindi lang tayo ito. Try natin mag-champion." Former Rain or Shine teams won championships already. Hindi ito imposible. Kahit andiyan sina June Mar [Fajardo] and the other big teams right now, I think we can do it as long as we have the right pieces.