The past, present, and future of Isaac Go

Photos by Kenneth Aballa

The first time I meet Isaac Go is on a dim Tuesday afternoon, a little bit after the passing of a rainstorm so strong it could make any bonfire fizzle out. But the rain lets up and Isaac comes to the place where I asked we could meet, his frame broad, his demeanor easygoing. He tells me he came from a lunch with an old friend, and how they talked about how much has changed in the past few years, and it occurs to me — what with the impending end of 2017 biting at the ankles of last-minute Christmas shoppers all over the city — how easy it is to metaphorize Isaac’s championship-winning clutch shot. But we’ll get to that later.

I ask him, what has changed in the past few years? Isaac marvels, about how there exist people who don’t know what VHS and cassette tapes are, and about how much basketball has changed over the years, how “the three-point line has been revolutionized,” how much faster everything is. “I’m not supposed to say this, I feel old! [But] I can’t say that ‘cause I’m 21!”

Can’t blame the guy for feeling like an old soul, though. Isaac has been playing for about 12 years (that’s more than half his life), some of that time as the eager (and kinda coerced) bunso shooting hoops with an encouraging older brother, and many years on the high school team as a bench warmer. Before all that, he wasn’t even super into the game. “[My parents] just saw sports as a reason for me to get out of the house,” he says.

Clutch and center: UAAP star Isaac Go has been playing basketball for about 12 years.

“I remember this deal I made with my parents back then that if I got honors, I would get training less,” he adds. “But if I didn’t, I would get training more […] My grades were going down a bit, not really to the point where you were concerned, but there was a drop, so I lost the bet and got more training.”

Even he can’t pinpoint when exactly he learned to love basketball — only that it happened, and that’s just where he is.

And where he is now is pretty darn sweet, considering all the publicity he’s been getting lately. But Isaac speaks less like a dude resting on his laurels and more of a pragmatic strategist, not even super invested in the Ateneo-La Salle rivalries that give most games their narrative charge. “If you look at it from a basketball perspective, a rivalry means nothing,” Isaac says. “Because at the end of the day, it’s one win one loss in your win loss record. Just because you beat La Salle, doesn’t mean you get two wins.”

But more striking is that how he deflects clutch credit, not just out of humility but with a scientific mind.

 

We like to think of the clutch shot as a singular event, an out-of-nowhere moment that drastically changes the tides of the game. But nah. Isaac stresses that the winning clutch shot was, at least for him, a culmination of years of training, of working, of learning to love something he didn’t love before.

 

“When you see the NBA, Kobe’s clutch, he creates his own shot. You give him the ball last minute, let him go to work,” he says. “My clutch has been of passes, of my teammates […] And it was all drawn up by the coach. To say I’m clutch is like saying, it was because of me who made all of that happen, I was the one who passed the ball to myself, I was the one who drew up the play. But the reality is it was the coaches who drew up the play.” We like to think of the clutch shot as a singular event, an out-of-nowhere moment that drastically changes the tides of the game. But nah. Isaac stresses that the winning clutch shot was, at least for him, a culmination of years of training, of working, of learning to love something he didn’t love before.

These days though, Isaac is facing down the end of the year like the rest of us. While he spent the first half of his year trying to get back in shape and feeling like he had plateaued, well, that’s certainly changed, and he’s looking forward to what’s coming next. “You’re only as good as your last game, as they say. “There’s a lot of room to grow, a lot of new things you can try, the game’s ever-evolving,” he says.

Wise words to consider, especially when you’re making your resolutions. Every move you’re making has a whole chain of moves that brought you here. Or, as Isaac would say: trust the process.

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