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Anton Asistio has no limitations

Anton Asistio puts on a khaki suit to complement the same shade of pants that seamlessly falls right below his ankles. He’s wearing a short-sleeved button down which makes him look perfect for a Don Draper Lucky Strike billboard ad on Mad Men. While he carefully slides sleek sunglasses above his ears, his hair – straight and textured – is slicked to the side by a team of stylists. He doesn’t smile, but looks calm and composed.

He turns around to examine at himself in the mirror, studying what seems like a stranger in front of him. “So, Anton…” the interview questions begin earlier than expected, albeit in an informal manner. He turns arounds and nods, signifying his intent to answer.

“What would happen… if you go to Coach Yeng Guiao’s practice in this outfit?”

Asistio can’t contain himself, instantaneously guffawing with amusement. He steadies himself enough to respond, “He’d probably tell me to get out.”

It’s an afternoon hot enough that Hell’s fury feels real. Someone from the production staff declares a car thermometer indicates it is 43 degrees outside. But one only has to look at the sweat beads dropping from Asistio’s face upon his arrival at Burnside Barbers in Katipunan for a microcosm of the unforgiving Metro Manila weather. “Anginit” is the new conversation ice-breaker.

Asistio comes in with the energy of a low-key and chill bro in today’s time of risk-taking fashion: a black round-neck shirt, shorts, sneakers, and a backpack. Of course, a necklace stands out just right above his collar bone. His watch is elegant, but not too loud. His demeanor appears stoic, but underneath is a keen observer, routinely reading the room he’s in.

He’s not oblivious to these foreign surroundings. Cameras click around him. Microphones are attached to his jacket. Flash lights spark and fizzle every now and then. Directors shout “CUT!” from across the room. The music? At least that is familiar: a mix of old-school RNB and new-school hip-hop to get everyone in the mood. Now, if only there was a PlayStation somewhere to load up NBA 2K. The former Ateneo Blue Eagle probably prefers the loud reminders of Coach Yeng to slide his feet on defense anyway, but, what the hell? It’s a life experience, right?

Besides, isn’t this what Asistio’s career up to this point has been about? To be undaunted by challenges?

To trust hard truths over uncertain guarantees?

LABAN lang.”

Anton reminisces for a moment: “There were always times na parang I was on the verge of getting cut or I would get cut.”

His solution?

“Keep fighting… fighting to win.”

A father’s dream

In 2024 Asistio has two UAAP championships (2017, 2018) and a two-year contract extension with Rain or Shine in the PBA. He’s putting together the best stretch of his pro career, consistency sharper than ever. Confidence has never been higher. The basketball court remains a safe haven. As far as his golfing, well, that’s in the works. Off the court, he is endorsed by Anta.

“For me,” he begins a trip down memory lane, a smile spreading wide across each cheek, “it was my dad.”

Nio Asistio played for Ateneo in high school and was Anton’s biggest influence in committing to hoops.

“It was really my dad who made me fall in love with the game. He would bring me to ung mga pick-up games nila before when I was younger… he was the one who was really hands on saakin.”

Before or after Anton’s practices, they would shoot 300 to 500 jumpers a day: catch-and-shoots, spot-ups, off motion, and a few others. Anton admits the extra focus on shooting took away from his growth as a defender and ball-handler, although it is the key offensive strength that has gotten him this far, not to mention makes up most of his online highlights. Until today, his shooting form is one of the purest Philippine basketball has ever seen.

“The technique, the mechanics, even up to this day, when I have bad games or shooting slumps, I call him or I ask him, ‘Dad ano ba nakikita mo na mali ko?’ He’ll tell me, kasi siya nagturo saakin. So, when he sees na masama shooting ko, or whatever, if there’s anyone else other than myself who would know what’s wrong, he would be the guy.”

Asistio respects the coaches he’s played for, particularly Guiao and Ateneo’s Tab Baldwin, whose initial doubts evolved into adoration by the time they secured Ateneo’s first back-to-back UAAP titles since Norman Black’s dynasty. But Nio’s counsel is valued highest. He once aspired of being a pro player himself. That didn’t go as planned, as tennis got in the way. So, he passed on his knowledge to his son whose path to success, he knew, wouldn’t be carpeted in silk. Together, they made both dreams come true.

“Even if he didn’t reach his dream, he’s happier na ako, na reach ko yung dream ko.”

Asistio looks straight ahead. No longer at the cameras. The smile stays on his face as his voice begins to choke up. He beams with fulfillment. No one can ever take this feeling away from him.

“He’s very happy for me na I’m living the life I’ve always dreamed of.”

And that is worth more than any trophy on a mantle.

No cooking

The only time Asistio got in a fight on the basketball court was in Grade 5. His team rallied from a double-digit deficit. The game was close in the fourth period, and each squad physically pressed up on defense against each other. Tempers flared between him and the opposing guard, Kiko Talag, who punched Anton. Ironically the two would grow as teammates and friends a few years later.

As this happened Nio remained indifferent in the stands, curious how the next moments would unfurl. The younger Asistio punched back. Both players were thrown out of the game. It wouldn’t have been shocking to expect a lecture from his dad on keeping his cool, but that wasn’t the case.

“Natuwa siya, because he was also interested to see how I would react – was I going to fight back?”

Was I going to fight back?”

It’s an interesting question, not only because it tests your toughness against adversaries, but more importantly, against yourself. When is true character revealed? During moments of celebration after a victory, or during the bleaker times when hope might be all you have?

When Baldwin arrived at Ateneo, his resume needed no introduction. He coached at the highest level of FIBA competitions. He started handling the Philippine men’s national team, a roster every player in the UAAP or NCAA aspires to be part of. If anyone’s mind is filled with basketball knowledge, it is his. And for the Blue Eagles, his word was about to be gold.

“He’s too short, he’s too weak, he’s too slow, and he can’t handle the ball” was Tab’s initial assessment of Asistio. Not only was his roster spot unguaranteed, there was a high chance he wouldn’t make the cut – again. For someone who had already persevered in college for so long, questions about the desire to keep going naturally came up.

“I remember those words,” Anton laughs in the present. “He came up to me and he told me those words. Instead of feeling hurt or it putting me down, I took it as a challenge. Actually, I’m very thankful he told me that, kasi there are some coaches who won’t tell what they really see.”

Asistio refers to these half-truths as “cooking,” and the tone he uses to spit it the word has clear disdain based on past experience.

“Gusto ko kahit na masakit, I want that. Tell me. I can take it, kahit na gaano kasakit. Sobrang na-appreciate ko si Coach Tab because he told me that.”

Anton’s assistant coaches vouched for him. Baldwin gave him another shot. Two years and as many titles later, the tactician’s assessment of his 5-foot-10-point guard turned into praises such as “tremendous fighter”, “tremendous competitor”, and “winner.”

Which was sweeter from the two titles, Anton is asked.

“Against La Salle,” he answers immediately. “That was my favorite… that year, it was destiny for us.”

But as far as signature moments go, his came in the final moments of Ateneo’s conquest against UP in 2018. After drilling a dagger three-pointer against a good friend in Diego Dario, Asistio looked over to the Fighting Maroons and reflected on years of frustration.

“Pag UP talaga yung kalaban, may galit yung mindset ko,” he says, pointing a finger to his skull. It isn’t anything personal, but Bo Perasol was Ateneo’s head coach as Asistio rode the bench and didn’t get the opportunity to play. The emotions that marinated inside of him never left, even as he finally got his opportunity to shine years later.

“Hindi ako pwede magpatalo dito,” Anton persistently reminded himself during that series. In many ways those are still the words that fuel his drive for success and recognition every single day.

Knowing his story, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Publisher and Creative Director: James Leonard Cruz, Producers: Joemar Moscaya, Paolo Gonzales, Art Director: Karlota Tuazon, Interview and Cover Story: Naveen Ganglani, Photo: Vyn Radovan, Video: PZBX Productions Inc., Grooming: Cats Del Rosario, Styling: Bettina Erquieza, Special Thanks To: Burnside Barber, Banh Mi Kitchen.

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