In an exclusive interview with BasketBola, Rob Ricafort tells his story in his words.
Ball is Life.
Most people say these words in this succession because it’s cool. Many know this phrase from watching countless hours of highlights of young amateurs in the United States shakin’ and bakin’ their way on community basketball courts all the way to the bright lights of the National Basketball Association.
But for some, Ball is Life is more than just a fancy phrase casually thrown around to mean that one loves basketball. It’s a term that means much more than just milennial slang for individuals who live and breathe the sport.
Ball literally is Life.
We’ve all heard this narrative before: how a young man’s destiny seems to have been intertwined with a basketball from the moment he was born.
How in spite of all the challenges life throws at him, somehow, someway he always finds his way back to his sacred space within the confines of those baselines.
How the sound of a fresh leather ball bouncing off newly-waxed wooden floors helps him concentrate and filter out all the noise from the outside.
I’ll bet anyone a million pesos on this. You’ve never heard of Rob Ricafort other than from his UAAP residency debacle and subsequent captivating Twitter hashtag #DontRobRob.
Well, really, how could you?
Rob’s always been a few inches short of finally getting a break. He’s bounced from team to team, league to league, heck even country to country, in search of the right fit, the right team, and the right situation.
In the world of high-level hoops, people like Rob are called Basketball Nomads. Extremely gifted athletes that either have an attitude, an addiction, or an affliction.
But Rob doesn’t have any of those. In fact, I’ll make it a point that he isn’t labeled a Basketball Nomad. What he actually is is a Basketball Orphan. All he ever really wanted is a place he can call ‘home’ and a team he can count on as ‘family’.
Rob’s had his fair share of moments that he’ll never forget like when two Division 1 NCAA schools were eager to have him on their teams, only to find out that he got a D average when he needed a C.
Or that time he almost suited up for the University of the East Red Warriors if not for bone spurs in his ankle that required two separate surgeries.
Or when he finally got the chance to train with the De La Salle University Green Archers, his dream school and team, but only to feel that things weren’t right.
Things didn’t turn out the way he thought it would.
“Basketball has always been my escape whenever there are things that are bothering me. Every time I get on the court to play, shoot or work on my skills, I feel calm as if everything is okay.”
For a moment, Rob turned his back on the game he loved ever since he was a kid playing for Montessori de San Juan.
It wasn’t really the game he was leaving behind, but rather all the intricacies and politics of it. There were so many variables complicating his relationship with the game that he just had enough. It was tough, but having to go through all that, he’d rather walk away.
The heart that had once beat so passionately for the game was growing weaker and weaker with each hurdle it had to go through.
Rob’s burning passion for basketball was getting extinguished. He felt it was time to finally hang his sneakers up.
In 2015, Rob finally caught a break. At the urging of his good friend Gab Banal, Rob laced up his sneakers and tried out for Mighty Sports in the Philippine Commercial Basketball League.
By some grace of the basketball gods above, this basketball orphan crossed paths with a man who would take him in for what he was, is, and will be.
Coach Bo Perasol, who at that time had rumors circling around him regarding the University of the Philippines (UP) head coaching position, was at the gym where Mighty Sports was playing in a tune-up game. Perasol just ended his final season with the Blue Eagles and word on the street that he was on his way back to Diliman.
Rob, mustering up all his courage to make his pitch, asked the former King Maroon if the rumors were true. This basketball orphan was knocking on the door of what he hoped would finally be his home.
“I believe it was fate. I think he liked the type of player I was. At the time, I’m not exactly sure what he saw in me.”
Rob and Coach Bo hit it off from the moment they first met. The former felt like he was finally wanted and valued while the latter saw a player who he needed.
It was a match made in basketball heaven.
Fast forward to 2017 and Rob is once again dealing with the complexities that collegiate amateur hoops present.
He’s been here before and he remembers how all those moments ended.
However what’s different now compared to then is that he has a “family” he can lean on to.
Years ago, it was just Rob Ricafort against the world. No one to lean on to. Nobody to count on.
Today, it’s Rob Ricafort and the UP Fighting Maroons against the world. A solid band of brothers with him every step of the way.
One for all. All for one.
“The players and coaching staff were all very welcoming. Knowing that these guys were all hard working and full of heart, I guess that’s why I felt like home.”
UP welcomed him with open arms. There were no ifs or buts.
“The team and the entire UP community accepted me for who I am. They believed in my capabilities and gave me a second chance.”
In spite of possibly losing his first and only chance to play in the UAAP, Rob remains positive and hopeful that the Board of Trustees overturns their previous decision.
“To the UAAP board – I hope they can reconsider my case. Everyone deserves a shot at their dreams. I pray they give me the opportunity to suit up for a school that took me in so I can play my heart out for them in my first and last UAAP season.”
With a place he can call “home” and a team he can count on as “family, Rob is out to fight for his chance to play the game he loves with and for the people he loves.
“I’ll never give it up and I’ll never give up.”
*Featured image courtesy of the UP Men’s Basketball Team