I first met Robert Labagala when he was at the farm team of the University of the East Red Warriors back in 2001 if I’m not mistaken.
Since Jay-Arr Estrada, the resident power forward of UE was a good friend of mine, I joined them in a scrimmage game with a mixture of “A and B” teams of UE at the Tanduay gym in Quiapo, Manila that year.
Through that one scrimmage game, I got to know Robert and began to know him better as he joined me in a small group with some of the UE players, where we talk about faith in God and values.
Robert shared to me his life-long dream of playing in the PBA someday. Jay-Arr and I prayed with him, believed with him and encouraged him through those ups and downs of college basketball.
That dream was tested a lot of times during his challenging times playing for the UE Red Warriors.
Remember, he had to contend for playing minutes with Paul Artadi, Arnold Booker and Paolo Hubalde during his first two varsity years (2002-2003). Earn Saguindel came over later, and again, Robert had to split time with the Cebuano pint-sized guard.
But through sheer hardwork and faith in God, whom he recognizes as the Giver of his basketball skills, Robert worked his way up, fighting through adversities in college and even during his stints in the commercial leagues.
That’s why not a few eyebrows were raised when the 5’8” guard out of UE was selected 12th overall by Barangay Ginebra during the 2010 PBA Rookie Draft.
“Tiyaga tiyaga lang. Basta naghahanda lang naman ako para kapag dumating yung opportunity, ready ako maglaro,” Robert shared to me after doing some extra shooting on Tuesday at the Xavier gym, the venue of Ginebra’s practice.
Now, three years since Ginebra drafted him, Robert has not forgotten his humble past.
That is why he is starting up a Rob Labagala Basketball Camp (for kids ages 8-14), which will be held for five weekends beginning on October 5 at the Navotas Sports Complex.
Robert said this is his way of giving back to the next generation. He is hopeful that the camp could train and discovering up and coming basketball players, who could be the next superstars of the PBA.