Shaun Ildefonso is self-aware. He knows his strengths. He knows his weaknesses. He knows who he is.
He's not tatay Danny, the two-time PBA MVP, member of the league's 40 Greatest, and one of the most punishing post players of all-time. He's not younger brother Dave, the walking bucket who was a one-man show for National U and who's learning to round out his game now with Ateneo.
What Shaun is, as a player at least, is a said-to-be inside presence who has never been blessed with the necessary height to be so. And all along, he may very well have been miscast in his role.
"My whole life, I played as a 4 or a 5," he shared over the phone, days after playing the final game of his collegiate career. "6-1 lang ako! 6-2 on a good day, with new shoes. But just one year under coach Jeff [Napa], I did a good job as a wing," he continued, ever the lively personality who knows just what words work to full effect.
Indeed, from his three years in Ateneo (juniors and seniors level combined) to his first two seasons as a Bulldog, Ildefonso was the undersized big Filipinos have been used to love. The effort and energy were there, he was going to give his all even opposite foreign student-athletes, but he was, more often than not, a mismatch opponents can exploit.
"I wasn't frustrated naman. There were some times lang na, of course, may magki-creep in na self-doubt, pero quickly ko naman na-overcome," he answered when asked if he felt frustration that he wasn't as skilled as Dave or he wasn't as tall as Danny, whose power skillset he actually inherited. "Iba si tatay, iba si Dave. I always believed you just have to work on what you can. Everybody can improve and I know what I need to work on."
Enter Napa, a well-known developer of bigs who, ironically, pushed Ildefonso out of the paint in his first year at the helm for National U. And lo and behold, the 6-1 big-bodied 24-year-old played pretty well, posting per game counts of 6.1 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.4 assists, while also mostly starting offensive sets from outside the arc. Without a doubt, that opened up more pathways for Ildefonso's next step - and he's grateful for Napa, even though the latter was on the former up until his last UAAP game.
"Desisyon ni coach Jeff yun. It hurts, of course, and wala na akong masasabing iba pa about that game," remarked Ildefonso, talking about his final game in college where he only played seven and a half minutes and went scoreless, leading to Napa stating that he and other veterans weren't prepared to come through in their must-win game. "I'm thankful for coach Jeff. That guy gave me a different perspective on basketball. The only thing I'm frustrated at is I only played one year with him. He taught me to accept my role. He taught me that for you to play a good game, you have to play defense first. All that, I can bring to the PBA."
For sure, Ildefonso would have wanted to have done much more in his last hurrah as a Bulldog, but all in all, his final season still lifted his spirits to be able to move forward - meaning, onto the 2022 PBA Draft. While not necessarily the top of mind when it comes to prospects, he's confident that at least one squad will take a chance on him.
"'Di naman ako pang-international tulad ni Dave. Ako, playing in the PBA, masayang-masaya na ako dun," he shared, self-aware, still. "Feeling ko naman may magda-draft sa akin. As long as you work hard, you'll get rewarded. Maraming players, once they get the bag, medyo nagkukulang ang fire. Ako, yung personality ko, kung paano ako pinalaki, 'di ako ganun. At the end of the day, I wanna be the best version of myself."
In the PBA, Ildefonso knows full well that he'll no longer be asked to play out of position, and he'll have to transition full-time into a wing, or even a guard. He's ready, he's raring to continue marching forward in this new way he's walking on.
"Gusto kong maging superstar na role player," he expressed about what he can bring in the pro ranks. "The Scottie Thompson type of player? I believe I have the tools, the character, and the drive. It'll take much work, still, but papunta na ako dun."
And if for some reason things don't work out? Well, Shaun actually can do a thing or two that both Danny and Dave can't.
The eldest of the Ildefonso siblings is a natural on-screen, the exact opposite of how he was a misfit as a basketball big. Armed with a magnetic charm, the confidence of speaking his mind, and just the right amount of good ol' fun (humor that is, many times, at his own expense), he has already hosted a couple of successful web shows entitled "SRSLY" and "RLY." All the energy he brings whenever he steps on the court, he also exudes in front of the camera -- so much so that he's already gotten offers to be on the broadcast panel for the UAAP's next season.
"I'm very, very interested in doing that! Bonus din yun 'no," he shared through chuckles. "That just comes with my personality. 'Di lang ako sanay na may script, may notes, kasi free-flow lang ako usually. But I can also learn about those. Dito (being on-cam) ako super talented."
Wherever we'll be catching him next, whether it'll be on your favorite PBA team or on your can't-miss sports broadcast, Ildefonso has the talent to prove he belongs. And if that talent isn't enough? He has the work ethic to set things straight.
"I know the Ildefonso name has already been built up in basketball. Ngayon, gusto ko, yung Shaun Ildefonso na pangalan naman," he expressed.
He's not Danny Ildefonso. He's not Dave Ildefonso. He's Shaun Ildefonso -- and he's here to stay. Seriously. Really.