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Gelo Alolino: Grabbing the Leash

By Paolo Mariano Posted Sep 17th 2013

NU's Gelo Alolino doesn't get enough credit but he has really guided the Bulldogs in their historical run this season.

Terrence Romeo or Roi Sumang?

It’s the definitive Best UAAP Point Guard debate this season. Sometimes RR Garcia’s name will come up, but really, it’s been a toss-up between Romeo and Sumang—and rightfully so. 

It’s still a shame though that Gelo Alolino is rarely part of the discussion. Because when it comes to playmaking and directing his team—the core definitions of a true point guard—the National University (NU) floor general is arguably the best in the league.

NU’s historic season, earning the top spot and the twice-to-beat advantage for the first time since the inception of the Final Four in 1994, is usually attributed to the all-around brilliance of Ray Parks or the rock-solid presence of Emmanuel Mbe or the tactical genius of head coach Eric Altamirano. Again, Alolino is seldom mentioned.

But like most prototypical point guards, he understands his role isn’t glamorous. His duty is to bring down the ball and feed open teammates. Even though he doesn’t score in bunches like Romeo or regularly generate highlight plays like Sumang, his steadiness, decision-making, and ability to control the team are as important to the Bulldogs. He’s like the drummer in a rock band. The flamboyant front man and the talented lead guitarist may get all the attention, but their sound wouldn’t be as terrific without the guy seated at the back, making sure everyone is on the same beat.

“I’m just embracing my role. We already have lots of players who can score. I just make sure we keep the ball moving.” said Alolino. “We all genuinely have good intentions for the team, because if not, it will reflect on our game.”

The 19-year-old playmaker answers intelligently. You could feel he really believes what he’s saying. He’s truly like his coach’s extension, as they say with point guards. 

“I don’t want to take credit for (his basketball articulateness). Gelo has a high basketball I.Q., that’s one of his strengths. He really understands the game,” said Altamirano.

Now in his third year, Alolino has put up career-highs of 7.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, and a league-leading 5.2 APG, including the occasional replay-worthy dishes. He is also tops in assist to turnover ratio with 2:2 a game, usually the mark of an efficient PG. 

“My goal is to score just around eight points a game and make my teammates happy by sharing the ball,” said Alolino. “Tapos ‘di ko namamalayan, naka-eight, nine assists pala ko, sasabihin na lang sa akin ni coach pagkatapos ng laro (Then without me noticing, I’ve tallied eight, nine assists, coach will just tell me about it after the game). I’m proud to lead the league in assists.”

“He really buys into our system. He keeps his teammates involved. He’s one of the best point guards in the league,” said Parks.

But even though he looks snug as a playmaker, the 5-foot-11 Alolino didn’t start out as a point guard. His father, who played high school varsity, taught him how to play ball at the age of four. After a few years, he was already starring as a high-scoring forward in various leagues in his hometown of Las Piñas.

“Scorer talaga ko nun, maaga kasi ako tumangkad kaya kayang-kaya ko umiskor (I was really a scorer back then, my growth spurt came early that’s why I can easily score),” said Alolino. 

He carried his high-scoring ways at the University of Perpetual Help in high school. In his final year in 2010, he carried the Junior Altas to their first semifinals appearance since 1985. They, however, lost to a twice-to-beat San Sebastian squad, led by now-University of the East wingman Gino Jumao-as. In a losing effort, Alolino tallied 27 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists, while resting for just a solitary minute. At the end of the season, he was rewarded with a slot in the Mythical Five along with Jumao-as, Baser Amer, Rey Nambatac, and Cris dela Paz.

This was when he caught the attention of Altamirano, who was then coaching the RP Youth Team. The veteran tactician handpicked Alolino and named him starting point guard. That’s where he really honed his playmaking skills and embraced being a pure floor general.

“I saw that he's a point guard in every sense of the term. He looked to pass and liked to create opportunities for his teammates. Also, he was tall for his position," said Altamirano.

He helped the squad to a respectable fifth place in the 2010 FIBA-Asia Under-18 Championship in Yemen, playing alongside NU teammates Troy Rosario and Kyle Neypes and UAAP nemeses Kiefer Ravena, Von Pessumal, Gwyne Capacio, Kevin Ferrer, Jeron Teng, Mike Tolomia, and Russel Escoto.

Despite the successive accolades and having Altamirano, who also joined NU in 2011, on his side, Alolino still looked a bit restrained in his first two years with the Bulldogs. It seemed like, pardon the tacky pun, he was on a tight leash. He was tentative. He lacked leadership. Perhaps he was too wary of his place in the team hierarchy. From being the go-to-guy in high school, he was relegated to being a role player. He admitted that he was pressured to run the team. He had to diligently study NU’s plays every night before going to bed in their dorm.

But with Altamirano’s urging and his familiarity with the system, Alolino has truly blossomed as the team’s steering wheel this season. He instructs his teammates where to go in set plays, pacifies them when their emotions go haywire, and encourages them when they make good plays. Clearly, he has guided NU in the right direction.

“At first, the transition from being the main option to playmaker was difficult. But eventually, I realized that our team really needed me to be a point guard. Plus, having a scorer’s background is an advantage for me. Other teams don’t know if I’m going to score or pass,” said Alolino.

“He’s matured a lot. He’s done a good job quarterbacking our team. Part of his growth is his improved decision-making. Before, he was erratic, turned the ball over a lot, and forced his shots. But slowly, he has overcome all of that. He understands his role as one of our leaders,” said Altamirano, a star point guard for University of the Philippines when it won its lone UAAP title in 1986.  

NU is in the cusp of finally ending its 58-year title drought, the longest futility in the league. With Mbe graduating this season and Parks possibly foregoing his eligibility to join the pros, this might be the Bulldogs’ best chance at the crown.

“We have a sense of urgency but we’re not looking too forward. We’re not overlooking any team. We just want to end on a high note,” said Alolino.

Alolino knows he doesn’t need to score 20 points a game. He knows he doesn’t need to have jaw-dropping passes. He knows his primary responsibility is to guide the Bulldogs to victory. He doesn’t care if he’s hardly considered for the title of Best UAAP Point Guard. After all, he’s focused on a different title.