Dalph Panopio might have been born and raised in Rome, but you won’t find a shred of doubt when it comes to his blood and his commitment to the flag.
The 6-foot-1 point guard, who was all smiles during a team practice backed by Smart and PLDT at Kerry Sports in Taguig, will don the tri-colors for the first time when Batang Gilas flies on August 3 to Nothaburi, Thailand for the 2018 FIBA Under-18 Championship.
He was visibly giddy asked about what he was looking forward to in the tournament.
“Medyo excited na po ako kasi di ko kilala yung mga makakalaban namin doon. Wala naman pong pressure kasi alam ko naman na malakas ang team namin. Nagpa-practice kami ng mabuti, kayang kaya namin ‘yun,” Panopio said.
The 18-year-old was born to a Batangueno father and a Mindoreno mother in Italy. There, he made his way to the Stellazzura Basketball Academy and impressed everyone with his sweet range and adept playmaking.
Panopio capped off his days at Stellazzura with an impressive campaign against some of Europe’s best high schoolers at the Euroleague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament in Belgrade, Serbia last May. They fell in a close championship match to Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius, 76-71, but he did log 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field (with a pair of threes) to go along with two assists and a steal.
He averaged 17.8 points, 5.5 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals in four games and even posted an impressive 24-point, 13-assist effort (8-of-14 from the field, 5-of-6 on threes) in a win against Divina Seguros Joventut Badalona.
His exploits were enough to grab the attention of officials from Italy’s national youth team, who extended an offer for Panopio to represent them in international hoops tournaments. But he turned them down.
Apparently, Panopio had set his sights back home for a long time already and is bent on following the footsteps of Jimmy Alapag, Jayson Castro and Terrence Romeo — Gilas Pilipinas guards whom he idolized.
“Tinanong din ako ng national team ng Italy kung gusto ko maglaro doon. Eh ‘yung choice ko kasi nauuna lagi yung Gilas. Hindi ko ineexpect na kukunin ako ng Italy, pero talagang mas gusto ko ang Gilas kasi Pilipino po ako eh,” he explained.
“Doon lang po ako lumaki, pero Pilipino ang dugo ko.”
Assimilating into the national team wasn’t too difficult for Panopio since his teammates made his transition warm and easy.
“Winelcome nila ako kasi mababait lahat. Syempre sa practice, kwentu-kwentuhan kaya naging friends na rin kami. Madali lang kami naging close silang lahat, he said.
Right now, he knows that the Philippines has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to the pace, polish, and fluidity of the international brand of basketball. He’s willing to impart what he can, but he’s also ready to absorb what he can from his teammates’ physical, rough and gritty style of play.
“Parang kinuha nila ‘yung nilalaro ko sa Italy eh. Gusto ko rin na ma-improve ang laro ng team ng Pilipinas, para magsama ‘yung bilis at technique. Itong practice natin, maganda kasi natutulungan ko rin sila. Sana umimprove pa rin ako,” Panopio noted.
But he’s not rushing things. Panopio’s taking it step by step while free from expectations, and it seems like he’s already comfortable knowing that he’s got his teammates and the whole country watching and helping him develop.
“Ang pine-pressure ko lang po na baka ‘di makakuha ng bola si Kai (Sotto), ‘di maka-shoot. Sana makuha niya mga pass ko para manalo kami,” he laughed.
“Expectations ko sa kanya… uy tumingin ka,” Sotto said in jest as he tapped a laughing Panopio. “Expectation ko sa kanya ay pasahan niya ko kasi kapag pinasahan niya ko, mananalo ‘yung team. Proven na ‘yan, ginawa na ‘yan ni Gerry Abadiano,” he joked.