Vince Tolentino is a Filipino-Canadian who grew up in Richmond, British Columbia. Vince started playing basketball when he was just 4 years old with his dad being his first coach and mentor in the sport. He played basketball throughout his elementary and high school years and led Vancouver College’s senior basketball team to place second in the BC Provincials in 2012. By that point, Vince was determined that he wanted to play professional basketball and his skills didn’t go unnoticed.
Vince was recruited by the Ateneo De Manila University, which is among the most prestigious schools in the Philippines with an equally reputable and closely followed men’s basketball team — the Ateneo Blue Eagles. The culmination of Vince’s five-year collegiate basketball career was as the Team Captain who led the Blue Eagles to win the coveted championship against their archrival, the De La Salle Green Archers.
Throughout the years of playing for the Ateneo, Vince slowly grew in popularity and the spotlight shone brightly on his strong, quiet leadership. Although many saw the highlights of his success, only a few knew the struggles he had gone through. In our interview, Vince told the compelling story of the ups and downs of his journey towards the championship.
“THE PROGRESSION FROM ARRIVING IN MANILA, TRYING TO PLAY BASKETBALL AND GOING TO SCHOOL — SO MANY THINGS WERE BEING THROWN AT ME AND I WASN’T REALLY PREPARED FOR THAT.”
Moving to Manila at 18 years old was a huge adjustment for Vince. It was difficult for his parents to let him leave for the Philippines especially since he was moving there alone and had to juggle everything by himself. “I was the older one in all of my classes and was living a different life than the other students. I had to juggle paying bills, passing my grades, taking care of myself, and playing basketball, while most of the students only had to go to school.”
After his year of residency (a foreign student need to sit out a year before he can play for the team), Norman Black the coach who recruited Vince left the team. He was now faced with a new coach, Bo Perasol, who didn’t choose Vince among his lineup. There were also internal issues and politics involved at the time and it was no longer a fun environment to be in. Vince played the most minutes on the court during his first year, and it became less and less in the next two years under coach Bo.
“SITTING ON THE BENCH WHEN YOU’RE MILES AWAY FROM HOME IS NOT FUN. GOING HOME TO AN EMPTY CONDO WITHOUT YOUR FAMILY WAS NOT WHAT I WAS USED TO. THERE WERE TIMES WHEN I HAD TO CALL MY PARENTS AND TELL THEM I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE. I WASN’T PLAYING, I WASN’T GETTING THE MINUTES ON THE COURT, I WANTED TO GO BACK HOME.”
Imagine what it would have felt like to be a parent who sent your child to the other side of the world and not see him play games? That was Vince’s story during his first three years in Ateneo. Even his parents started to doubt his future in basketball in the Philippines. Nevertheless, it when we are thrown into a difficult situation, away from our comfort zone that we are forced to grow, adapt, and persevere.
THE BIGGEST LESSON HE LEARNED IN THE FIVE YEARS HE PLAYED FOR ATENEO: “WORRYING WON’T CHANGE ANYTHING.”
“I am an overthinker. I learned that about myself when I was in the Philippines because I had so much time alone. I used to be so hard on myself, listening to those voices (of quitting and going back home).” Good thing Vince heeded the wisdom of his father – to focus on things he can change and let go of the worry over things that are out of his control. He continued to work hard both in training and in school, always making sure he passed the academic requirements and never missing a practice, waiting patiently for his time. And when it came, he was ready to deliver.
THE TEAM CAPTAIN
Coach Tab Baldwin came in during Vince’s fourth year with the Blue Eagles and he was finally given a chance to prove himself and shine not only as a player but as a leader. Many of Vince’s qualities aligned with the kind of leader Coach Tab was looking for. Vince is fiercely competitive, detail-oriented with a high basketball IQ, and he could relate to both Filipino and foreign players alike. Although not an enforcer, it was Vince’s ability to adjust the approach to each player, be a hard worker, and lead by example, that gained him the trust of his fellow teammates and coach. Because of these, it wasn’t a surprise that Vince was chosen as co-captain and team captain during his last two years playing for Ateneo.
VINCE’S THREE PRINCIPLES FOR BASKETBALL AND LIFE:
PATIENCE. “Basketball is a fast-paced game, but people don’t understand how patient you have to be in the sport – not only during every game but as far as waiting for your time. You have to understand and trust the process so that when your chance comes, you’re ready.”
HARD WORK AND VISION. “Hard work will bring you success.” Vince always had a clear vision that he worked towards. Coming to the Philippines it was clear that he wanted to play in the professional league and Ateneo was a stepping stone to get there. During his first year, his one goal was to make it into the team–and he did. He also wrote on his phone “I want to be a starter for the Blue Eagles, I want to win a championship next season.” This kept his vision top-of-mind and made it clear what he had to work for.
RELATIONSHIPS. “Basketball is a team sport where I’ve met so many different people. Learning to adjust to that, understanding that everyone is different, and building trust with the people I’m involved with applies to both ends of basketball and life.”
“UNDERSTAND THAT WHAT YOU’RE GONNA GO THRU IS NOT EASY. KEEP YOURSELF GROUNDED. STAY HUMBLE. LOVE THE JOURNEY”
On pursuing your dreams and the possibility of finding success in the Philippines: “If you’re given a chance and you think you can make a name for yourself, by all means, go for it. But understand that you will start from the bottom and it’s hard to juggle everything all at the same time. But I recommend it because it’s such a good learning experience for people that want to grow and become better as a person.”
“Understand that people wish they were in your shoes. There are a lot of people who want to play for Ateneo, play in professional basketball. So you have to stay grounded, you have to stay humble because you’ll never be good enough, you’re never there yet.”
“Winning the championship was the highlight, it was euphoric, I was almost in tears. But when I look back, the journey was so much more meaningful than getting that success. Love the journey as much as the success at the end because that’s what you’re going to remember.”
If anyone wants to check out the full audio interview where there are more insights and behind the scene details, you may find it here or download it from the Dropbox link below. I hope everyone enjoys listening to it as much as I did when I spoke to Vince. And if anyone thinks the kinds of questions I asked sound familiar, then you must be a School of Greatness fan too.