Byron Villarias dead set on helping Bataan's MPBL rise
Despite his ability to light up the scoreboard, Byron Villarias has always had to fight for his slot.
MANILA, Philippines – During the Bataan Risers’ 95-85 win over the Imus Bandera last July 28, John Byron Villarias topscored for the match with 25 points. In Bataan’s five matches in the ongoing Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League Datu’s Cup, the 30-year old Villarias has scored double digits thrice.
He has always been a high scoring guard, with Jose Rizal University in the NCAA, and NLEX and Cignal in the PBA D-League.
Yet, despite his ability to light up the scoreboard, Villarias has always had to fight for his slot.
“Sanay na,” he succinctly puts about always having to prove himself. “Nakakainis kasi minsan hindi nabibigyan ng chance pero kailangan talaga, positive thinking.”
For much of his young life, Villarias has had to prove himself. Two cousins – Vernie and Vilmer Villarias — played for the University of the East back in the 1980s where they were a big part of the school’s last UAAP champion teams.
When Byron left Silay, Negros Occidental after high school to try his luck in Manila, his first destination was UE.
“Nagtry out ako sa kanila for two weeks and akala ko meron akong chance. Kaso two weeks later, umalis sila Coach Dindo Pumaren and Bong Ravena (as Lawrence Chongson replaced the former as head coach), hindi na ako nakuha,” he recalled.
Disappointed, but undaunted, Villarias tried out for other teams — Arellano University, FEU, UST and CEU to name just a few. “Hindi ko naisip na umuwi sa Negros kasi gusto ko ipatunayan na kaya ko makapaglaro ng college sa Manila.”
It was with Jose Rizal University where he managed to land a roster spot under Vergel Meneses. At that time, the team was coming off perhaps its most successful spell since the days when Meneses himself was the team’s star.
Yet, Villarias found his place and scoring touch that included top pistolero Nate Matute and stud forward, John Lopez.
After two seasons with the Heavy Bombers, Villarias’ modest goals of simply playing in college had to be adjusted.
“Two years lang ako nakalaro sa Team A ng JRU and one year sa Team B nila. Bitin. Pero nung naglaro yung team sa D-League as ‘JRU’ nagustuhan ako ng NLEX pagkatapos naming sila pahirapan sa semi-finals. So lumipat ako after yung conference na yun,” he said.
When the NLEX Road Warriors moved up to the PBA, Villarias thought that he was going to finally live his PBA dream. Except that he played for a grand total of two games before he was sent down to Cignal in the D-League. It was there where he joined a team that had his current Risers teammates Pamboy Raymundo and Alfred Batino.
“Alam mo, disappointing at frustrating din kasi nandun ka na sa PBA. Pero naisip ko rin lagi na lang nangyayari ‘to. So pero hindi mo pwedeng isipin lagi yan. Positive thoughts lang. Motivation lahat ito para sa akin,” admitted Villarias. “Pero kapag tinignan mo si Pamboy na malaking part sa lahat ng team na napuntahan niya — at champion pa sila — tapos ganyan… lalakas din loob mo. Laban lang.”
And so the three former D-League teammates have found themselves with the Bataan Risers and Villarias could not be happier. “Lalo ka gaganahan kung alam mo meron plano yung team. Meron silang vision at siyempre, gusto ko sila matulungan at mapasama diyan.”
In a little over 19 minutes per game, Villarias is averaging 13.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game. Good numbers that have helped the Bataan Risers to a 4-1 record.
“Dito sa Bataan, meron kaming chance na gumawa ng isang special na ending. Sa ngayon medyo kulang pa sa chemistry pero makakarating din diyan. Lagi naman nagiisip yung management at coaches ng ways na makapag-bond kami para mas solid pa yung laro sa court. At sana masuklian namin at bigyan ng championship yung management at yung mga taga-Bataan. Lahat kami rito meron motivation. Kanya-kanyang motivation pero isa lang goal.”
“Ganyan lang. Laban ka lang at aangat ka.”