Safe to say, Jerom Lastimosa has arrived -- not only as the top gun for Adamson, but also as one of the best, if not the best, point guards in all of college. What a roller-coaster ride he's been on to get here, though.
In the first round of UAAP Season 82, the 5-foot-10 floor leader had heartbreak after heartbreak, three in a row to be exact. His playmaking and shotmaking made sure the Soaring Falcons were competitive, but come the endgame, he just couldn't come through.
First, there was UP, and Adamson was just down by two in the dying seconds before Lastimosa decided to launch a long-range missile that was way off. Fourth loss, five games.
The point guard went with a different approach against La Salle, as with his side trailing by three in the closing moments, he got a step on his defender, but suddenly pulled back and, even more suddenly, passed to stretch forward Keith Zaldivar whose triple try was rejected by Justine Baltazar. Sixth loss, seven games.
Sandwiched in between was their worst loss, in his eyes. A heartbreak that pained him so much that he respectfully declined post-game interviews.
"I couldn't accept that we lost that one. I just couldn't accept it," he expressed in Tagalog over the phone last Friday, two weeks since his no-show at the press conference. "I really felt that game was already ours. And then we lost again. Back in the locker room, I actually couldn't control my emotions. I kept punching the wall. We were just so unlucky. I couldn't believe it anymore."
Indeed, if there was one loss that may very well prove that lady luck wasn't smiling on Adamson for all the first round, it was that one-point loss to FEU. With 23 seconds remaining in that game, Lastimosa hit a three-pointer that put his team on top by two. It looked like it was redemption, finally, thankfully. He was the hero, finally, thankfully. But no, it still wasn't meant to be as at the other end, RJ Abarrientos fired a clutch trey of his own to send the Tamaraws ahead by one. There remained time for the Soaring Falcons to make something happen, but Lastimosa's bomb over two defenders fell short.
"It was frustrating. That was just frustrating," he shared. "All basketball players dream of that: taking and making game-winning shots. Everybody wants to be the go-to-guy, and of course, you give it your all, but the last shot just doesn't drop for you."
And so, at the end of the first round, Adamson stood at 1-6, with four of their defeats at just three points or less. More personally for Lastimosa, he could've played hero in all but one of those sorry losses. He just couldn't save the day for his squad.
Deep down, though, the 23-year-old was actually unfazed. He had been dealing with losses and heartbreaks long before he was the surefire star for Adamson. He knew pain. But he also knew patience and perseverance.
"Back in Dumaguete, growing up, I watched my parents hurt a lot. They were working so hard just to feed us," he shared, talking about his mother Sarita, a wet market vendor, and father Fernando, a tricycle driver. "That was always painful for me. I wanted to help them. I wanted to do something for them. But I was just a kid."
Lastimosa was the fifth of six children of parents who were, without a doubt, doing their best to make ends meet. At the end of the day, however, at the end of every day, in fact, their income was far from steady and stable. What they weren't able to grant financially, though, they provided in the form of a toughened character, an assured self-confidence, and a burning passion for their children.
That's exactly who Lastimosa is, after all: tough, confident, passionate. Add those to his physical prowess, and what you get is a basketball talent. Lastimosa was an unpolished prospect when he was playing for his then-high school in the 2017 Unigames (an annual sporting competition for nationwide schools). Nonetheless, a scout saw potential in him and asked if he wanted to move to Manila to play college basketball.
The promising prospect was all in. Not only did he hope to play on a bigger stage and under brighter lights in the country's capital, he also saw the opportunity as a way for him to help his parents.
"When that scout offered me a chance to try out, I had no second thoughts about trying my luck," he shared. "That was the only way for me to give my parents an assist. I wanted to sacrifice for them because of all the sacrifices they've done for us."
His parents, though, needed more convincing. They just didn't believe that their then-minor son could live on his own already.
"Actually, my parents weren't letting me go at first. They had doubts that I was too young to be alone in Manila," he shared. "But I just kept telling them, 'I can do this. This is our chance for a better life.' Thankfully, they came around."
Obviously, the parents had every right to be worried about their son and the big step he was taking. Perhaps, they shouldn't have been worried, however. After all, Sarita and Fernando themselves -- their work ethic, their love for family, their drive and determination -- already prepared Jerom. It was all up to him what to make of his shot.
That's why even after all the sorry losses in the first round, Lastimosa could keep the faith. He has talented teammates, he has a brilliant coach, and he himself has gone through worse.
"It's only natural to lose. We have a saying in our team: focus on the now. When we lose, we have to move forward right after. Of course, it's also natural to be frustrated, but we have to focus on our next games," he shared. "For me, all those close losses taught me that in those game-winning (attempts), I actually had teammates who were open, we had better options. I just have to make the right decision."
That is exactly what he has done now in the second round.
A rematch with FEU was Adamson's first assignment and the two teams yet again found themselves in a close contest. With the Tamaraws ahead by two, Lastimosa yet again found himself with the ball with 10 ticks to go. Instead of taking a three, though, he drove right into the lane. Rather than taking the shot, he set up a wide open Matty Erolon for a corner triple. Game-winning assist, losing streak stopped.
Five days later, it was Round 2 vs. UP, which rallied to just down two in the last 30 seconds. With the ball in his hands, Lastimosa had James Spencer as dance partner in the perimeter, feinted a drive before stepping back and rising from the top of the key. The ball felt nothing but net and following a defensive stop, it was another win for Adamson, the third in what's now a five-game winning streak.
Finally, thankfully, it was redemption for Lastimosa. That lead-widening three was taken from nearly the same spot where he missed his game-winning attempt against the same squad in the first round. The Soaring Falcons upset the title contending Fighting Maroons. Finally, thankfully, Lastimosa was the hero. He was the heartbreak kid in the first round. He's the heartbreaker in the second round.
Now he has proven his clutch credentials, he's also staking claim as the top playmaker in the UAAP, if not the collegiate ranks. Averaging 14.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.6 assists, he's a bonafide MVP candidate as well as both the engine and the fuel for a playoff hopeful. Slowly but surely, his determination is bearing fruit.
"It feels good that all I've been working on is showing. In the last two years during the pandemic, I was training and training. I didn't go back to the province and even when I was by myself in the school gym, I was working. Thankfully, it's paying off," he shared. "Then there's the trust coach Nash [Racela] has in me. He has given me the freedom to play my game."
Still, Adamson's top gun is adamant he still has much to improve on. He's well aware that moving on from heartbreak is just the first step if he hopes to keep the Soaring Falcons in contention this year and the two more seasons he has left in his eligibility.
"My leadership, how I lead the team, my maturity, those are what I still want to be better at. I want to win every game, I want us to have that winning culture," he shared. "I want us to have 100 percent, and more, chemistry. And I want myself and my team to make sure that how we're playing now is how we'll play until the end of the season."
Yes, Jerom Lastimosa has had his heart get broken over and over this season. Fortunately, he has a lifetime of experience in picking up the pieces and putting them back together. He was a heartbreak kid long before all those heartbreaking losses. At the same time, he knows full well that parents Sarita and Fernando have given him the heart he needs to ultimately win - whether that be in basketball or in life itself.