MANILA, Philippines—Isaac Go's transformation from a "big, fat kid" to an Ateneo cult hero has been well-documented.
He went from a barely used back-up to a featured performer in crunch time, and his crucial baskets in Ateneo's run to the UAAP Season 80 title will be played in highlight reels for years to come.
Along the way, Go thoroughly shattered the expectations that his head coach, Tab Baldwin, initially had for him. Baldwin had been honest about what he thought of Go when they first met — he had asked about the "big, fat kid" who had seen little playing time in Season 78, and saw potential in Go. To realize that potential, Go had to make plenty of sacrifices, including giving up rice.
"I didn't expect a lot from George (Go) from the beginning," Baldwin said of his veteran center.
There was no doubt as to Go's basketball IQ, said Baldwin, and that was always something that they could rely on. But they needed more from him — more athleticism and quickness, traits that didn't necessarily come naturally to the former Xavier School player.
That Go did all he could to give the Blue Eagles what was asked of him stuck with Baldwin.
"What he has in terms of the context of our team, he has respect from everybody, including all the coaches, for a person who gives everything he has to give, and we want more," the coach said.
"We want more athleticism, we want more speed, we want more quickness. And he tries, he gives everything he’s got.
"The one thing he gives that we all depend on a bit is that intellect, that basketball IQ, and that calm under pressure," Baldwin said. "He's been there for us for forever."
Go's calmness under pressure was never more evident than in Season 78, when he sank the game-tying 3-pointer against Far Eastern University in the Final 4 that kept Ateneo's season alive. He would go on to ice that win with a shot he made while on his knees, sending the Blue Eagles to the finals.
It was also Go who sealed Ateneo's triumph in the finals that year, drilling the dagger 3-pointer in Game 3 against La Salle that made him a legend in Katipunan.
Go was never quite able to duplicate those heroic efforts in the next two years, nor did he need to. The Blue Eagles were nothing short of dominant in Seasons 81 and 82, and they rarely needed clutch baskets. Go spent the past two years as the back-up to Ange Kouame, and in his final season, he normed just 4.3 points and 3.2 rebounds while playing 13 minutes per game.
There are no regrets and no complaints from Go, however, as he ended his UAAP career as an undefeated champion.
"It's an incredible feeling," said Go, one of five graduating Blue Eagles. "Not everybody gets a chance to play in the finals, not even four straight finals."
"I guess, we’re blessed in that sense that we have the opportunity to play the game that we love in one of the biggest stage in the country," he added.
To get there, Go touted the hard work that he and his teammates did, that their coach is so proud of them for putting in.
"It's not a result of luck, or anything else," he said. "It's a result of everybody's hard work, blood, sweat and tears. Coming in every day and working, and we did that. Some more than others in terms of years."
"But it's been a hell of a ride. It's sweet, and next year's team is gonna have a big challenge ahead of them."
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