All Roads Lead to Manila: Gilas Entry #9 – The Lieutenant

This also appears on Rappler Sports.

As good as LA Tenorio is, he became part of the Philippine Men’s National Team only in 2012. In the past six seasons he’s been a pro, Tenorio has registered 30+ Player Efficiency ratings in four – from the 2008-2009 season to 2011-2012. That means he’s been a top-shelf playmaker for the better part of his PBA career, and he only made the Gilas program last year. Somewhere there, one might find a bit of strangeness.

Oh but all that didn’t matter much when he finally DID don the national colors. Tenorio actually sat back as the second-string point guard last year for coach Chot Reyes. Gilas 2.0’s main floor general was then-Meralco’s Sol Mercado, but an injury in the middle of the 2012 Jones Cup forced Tenorio into the spotlight.

LA Tenorio is one of the leading candidates for a
spot in Gilas Pilipinas this year.
(image from

As is now common knowledge in these parts, Tenorio stepped up big time, leading the Gilas quintet all the way to the Jones Cup title – something that no Philippine team has been able to do since the Centennial Team copped the crown in 1998. Gilas eventually ended with a 7-win, 1-loss record. Their list of their victims included two Taiwanese teams, Jordan, Japan, a top-flight Korean club team, the powerhouse Iranian national squad (minus some key players, though), and an American selection.

Tenorio was eventually named Most Valuable Player of the tournament, norming 8.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game. More than the numbers, though, it was the big moments that really defined LA’s Jones Cup campaign. He tore through the fourth quarter of Gilas’s game against Team USA, which ended with the Pinoys winning, 76-75, and Tenorio tossing in 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists.

Together with Sonny Thoss (L) and Mac Baracael (R),
Tenorio helped lead the Philippines to the 2012
Jones Cup title and the 2012 SEABA
Stankovic Qualifying Cup.
(image from the Facebook page of Josh Reyes)

It was a sign that things have definitely come a long way since Tenorio first burst into the national hoops scene. And NO it wasn’t when he first played in the UAAP for Ateneo or in the NCAA Juniors for San Beda. It was before that – when Tenorio, then in grade six, donned the jersey of Don Bosco Makati and played a nationally-televised exhibition game in front of a PBA audience. His team’s opponent? Ironically, it was the Ateneo Grade School’s Small Basketeers Team. The Bosconians didn’t win, but Tenorio pretty much stole the show, scoring 31 points in ONLY TWENTY MINUTES (SBP rules at that time restricted a player to only two quarters of play).

Of course, scouts took notice. He first went to Adamson under coach Charlie Dy before eventually transferring to San Beda under legendary bench tactician Ato Badolato. LA became part of a Bedan squad that was rife with future collegiate stars – Magnum Membrere, Arjun Cordero, Toti Almeda, and Jon Jon Tabique. He won a title in his junior year, but finished just third in his last year with the Red Cubs.

A lot of colleges came a calling afterwards. DLSU reportedly made an offer, but rumor has it that something happened along the way that turned LA off. San Beda, naturally, was a strong contender, along with UP, which already had Almeda and Tabique. Adamson, too, wanted the spitfire guard back in its fold.

Oh but we all know where he went, don’t we?

LA personally met with Fr. Tito Caluag and then team manager Arben Santos to confirm that he was, indeed, Loyola-bound. It was the boost that Ateneo’s program needed, and it was also the kind of step that ensured LA’s entry into the UAAP limelight.

Tenorio helped Ateneo to three Finals appearances (2001-2003) and one memorable title run (2002). As a rookie, he scored 30 points in Game 3 of the 2001 UAAP Finals against De La Salle, but Ateneo squandered an 11-point halftime lead to lose out in the end. The following year, LA helped lead the Eagles back into the Finals and this time they quashed their demons to emerge on top of the heap for the first time in 14 years. The Eagles would eventually come short of defending the title in 2003, but LA’s legacy was set in stone – he was one of the best players to ever don the blue & white, and a storied pro career was definitely in the offing. A call-up from the national squad? It wouldn’t be a surprise.

But, again, it took a long time coming.

Fast forward to 2012.

LA and company returned home to adulation after winning the Jones Cup. The victory was made sweeter by the fact it was unexpected. This tourney was meant to be an appetizer for the bigger prize – the 2012 FIBA Asia Cup in Tokyo, Japan.

At stake in the Tokyo joust was an automatic slot in the 2013 FIBA Asia Men’s Championships. Finishing in the top five also meant an extra slot for a team’s respective subzone – in Gilas’s case, the Southeast Asian Basketball Association (SEABA).

Because Gilas won the Jones Cup, a lot of observers tagged them as title contenders alongside powerhouse Iran, the hometown Japanese, and Lebanon – the only team that beat Gilas (and badly if I may add) in the Jones Cup. And this time because Mercado was deemed ineligible to play (something about him not gaining Philippine citizenship on or before 16 years old AND his not playing for the national team in any FIBA-sanctioned event prior to 2012), Gilas was all Tenorio’s to lead.

Right off the bat, it was clear Tokyo would be a different story for Gilas. They led big in their first game, which was against China’s B Team, before suffering through a dry spell late in the fourth quarter and losing, 68-71. Chinese wunderkind Guo Ailun led the way with 18 points. He was LA’s mark. If Tenorio makes the final roster for the August tournament, then perhaps he’ll have a shot at payback against Guo.

Gilas, however, was able to right the ship quickly. They beat Lebanon, Uzbekistan, and Macau in succession and all by double-digit margins. The Pinoys finished second in their group due to the quotient system and were set to face the Taiwanese in the knockout quarterfinals.

They beat the Taiwanese, 75-68, in the quarters, but bowed to a superior Iranian squad in the semis. Tenorio was brilliant in that semifinal game, scoring 13 points, grabbing 5 rebounds, and handing out 3 dimes, but it was all for naught. Iran was just too big and too well-drilled, and, well, they shot 21 more free throws than we did. The dip continued in the third-place match, where Qatar simply outclasses the Pinoys, 63-79, behind big man Mohammed Yousef and naturalized player Trey Johnson.

As has, sadly, often been the case for the Philippines, we just couldn’t win when it mattered most. We won the Jones Cup, but lost the more important FIBA Asia Cup. We fell short of clinching an automatic berth in he FIBA Asia Championships.

Still, finishing fourth means Gilas earned a third slot for SEABA, and we eventually claimed a slot anyway as the tournament will be held here in Manila. Also, LA, or “The Lieutenant” as fans and commentators fondly call him, has the inside track to becoming our lead playmaker once again.

Unsurprisingly, Tenorio himself is pumped at the prospect of representing the Three Stars and the Sun once again, as reflected in this interview I had with him two weeks ago in the #GDay Gatorade Super Launch.

Interview with LA Tenorio:

Hoop Nut: How do you feel about being in the National Pool again?
LA Tenorio: I'm very happy and very thankful for the trust given to me by coach Chot. It's a privilege, and I'm looking forward to playing for the country again.

HN: Last year, you guys won the Jones Cup title for the first time in 14 years, and you played in the FIBA Asia Cup. Can you talk to us about those experiences?
LA: Playing in those tournaments was very overwhelming. We were already really happy winning the Jones Cup. It was totally unexpected, and we might have overachieved a little bit. It really boosted the confidence level of each and every player on the team. Of course, we feel we could’ve done better in the FIBA Cup, but we’ll make up for it in the FIBA Asia this year.

HN: As of now (before Jared's accident) there are 16 players in the Gilas pool, but only 12 will be named in the final Gilas roster. How badly do you want to be part of the final 12?
LA: Well, simply being part of the national pool is something I already consider as a great achievement. But of course I would really be happy and honored if I would be part of the final team. It's a different feeling to play for the country.

HN: Which team or player in the Jones Cup and FIBA Asia Cup last year really gave you guys a tough time?
LA: Iran definitely. Their scorer, Bahrami, is really good, and the big guy, Haddadi, wasn't even there yet. And that guy from Lebanon -- El Khatib! Even if he's older than most players, he's still one of the best.

HN: How do you feel about the 2013 FIBA Asia tournament being held here in Manila? Is it good because of the homecourt advantage, or is it not-so-good because of the pressure to win?
LA: You know, that's something a lot of people actually ask me. It's mostly good, since it'll be tougher to beat us here. The pressure is there, but it's more of an advantage for us. There will be really high expectations, but we will work hard and do our best, especially since we will play in front of our countrymen.

HN: If we do make it to the FIBA World Cup, how important will that be for the Philippines?
LA: Man, I cannot even think of the proper answer to that except‚ GRABE. If we manage to qualify… grabe. It will really be good for Filipinos everywhere.

LA’s “The Lieutenant” moniker was given to him for two reasons:
1)   His initials fit the initials for the rank – LA Tenorio (LT), and
2)   He’s like an army officer on the hardwood. Everyone follows him. In fact, a lot of his fans see him as an on-court extension of the coach.

Tenorio's speed, playmaking, and shooting
can be vital assets for Gilas's campaign
in August.
(image from

If he does make it to Gilas Pilipinas’s final 12, which I think is very probable, then I am confident he will not only replicate, but even surpass, the things he already achieved in his initial stint with the national team. I have no doubt he was born to play for the Philippines. Heck, it definitely took a long time coming.


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1 Comment

no doubt LA Tenorio is a superb point guard.. But he probably was not really considered him a candidate to play for the national team before simply because he was too small at 5'8" and with available taller alternatives at that time, he wouldn't really be a first choice. But of course after proving his worth at the Jones Cup it is no doubt that he is a top prospect for the NT pg position. But still in my opinion there are other factors to conisider and other players that can suit the position.