Kiefer Ravena’s Basketball Career is Better Than Ever

Kiefer Ravena has an athletic resume that is accomplished enough for many of his contemporaries to proudly proclaim, “God damn, that was a good career.”

For the original “Phenom,” however, the likelihood is he hasn’t arrived at the best chapters of his story just yet.

Ravena already has high school titles, collegiate titles, MVP awards, international success, and a Japan B. League trophy in his collection. He turns 31 years old this year and everyone can safely assume that he isn’t taking his foot off the gas pedal just yet, even if he can already visualize his ultimate vision at the end of the tunnel.

As his basketball mind continues to develop, so does his physical stature. His hoops IQ is better than it has ever been while his confidence, mixed with a new-found appreciation of self-awareness, gives him the fearless mindset required to become a superstar of the highest order.

There are many ways to perceive the concept of time, but one thing’s for sure: what we did in the past paved the road for where we are in the present, while the intrigue of the future, albeit unpredictable, can be invigorating. ALL-STAR Magazine had the opportunity to sit down with Ravena to discuss the yesteryears, analyze what today brings, and conceptualize what’s in store for tomorrow.

Photo: Vyn Radovan for ALL-STAR

Naveen Ganglani: It’s been a while, bro. You know, I feel like the last time I saw you regularly was your last season with Ateneo, which, gosh, how long ago was that? That was nine years ago, almost ten. The last time I covered a game of yours as media, at least, was when, sorry to bring it up, was the Mac Belo game winner. Does that still give you nightmares?

Kiefer Ravena: Oh, yeah, for sure. For sure. That was my last UAAP game, and the UAAP, as, you know, is a big part of who I am as a basketball player. And sometimes Mac still visits me in my dreams. It’s nice to see you there, but, you know, you shouldn’t have ended my career that way, bro. (laughs)

NG: Even if that was the end of your college career, that was the beginning of what would be so far, a very successful pro career, in my opinion. You’re doing so well recently. You just won your first B. League championship: Division 2 with Shiga.

KR: It was my team for the past three years, and I never realized how hard it is when it comes to winning a championship. The sacrifices, the things that the team, not only personally, that you go through when winning a championship. That’s why you admire those champion teams so much and at the same time, I had first-hand experience. It’s some real shit.

NG: What did that period (of not winning a title) teach you about never taking winning for granted again?

KR: More than a decade since I last won an actual championship when it comes to my pro career. Setting aside all the national teams, the SEA games, the other victories that I’ve had, you know, you appreciate winning so much more when you lose for a long time, especially for me. Personally, you guys know me as one of the most competitive people out there when it comes to basketball. And just like anybody else, you know I hate losing, right? I hate losing and losing for twelve years. It’s rough, and with losing people are saying, “Does he still know how to win? Is he still a good player? Does he do this? Does he do that? Can he still be at par with who he was in Ateneo?”

It takes a toll, obviously, it takes a toll on your mental state because physically you’re just doing everything that you can to be the best player you can be, and there are just some things that are out of your control and finally getting over the hump and going through that B2 championship. All throughout the playoffs, my mindset was just like, “Just give yourself a chance to win and then see where it goes.” I was trying to take it a game at a time, and eventually when we were at the finals and I was just like, “Damn, you made it this far and why not try to fucking win at all?”

Photo: Vyn Radovan for ALL-STAR

NG: You won a championship with Shiga, but you recently decided to depart the team. After your contract expired, you became a free agent, and officially, you are now at Yokohama. Congratulations. Take us through that journey. Why did you leave Shiga, and how did you end up with your new team after winning the championship?

KR: I was honestly expecting to come back and return to Shiga because, honestly, it doesn’t really make sense if you try to revamp a whole champion team who goes to B1. The connection, the system, the chemistry, the camaraderie, the brotherhood, it’s all there, and that’s how you make a strong team – you might not have the most talented ones, but if you have a culture developed, and I felt like we were able to do that.

But, I mean, no hard feelings because we’re all professionals here, you know, the business is the business. I just felt like I had to make a move personally and with my agent talking to me about growing and looking into a different option where I opened my eyes also to the fact that, yeah, I could actually leave Shiga. And then when that happened, when Shiga was trying to steer in a different direction and I had to look out for myself, and luckily, my agent, Daniel Moldovan, was able to help me to be with Yokohama.

NG: What is it that the B. League is doing so well that, in your opinion, is making them such a successful league despite the early stages of its career?

KR: I feel like it’s the vision more than anything else. It’s what they see at the end of the tunnel: how Japanese basketball is 20 years down the road. And that’s the biggest part if you have the vision. Plus, in Japan, a first world country, they have the resources to do it. It’s a perfect combination. The leaders are able to align their thoughts, align their interests towards that vision.

NG: What are some of the realistic aspects playing abroad that a lot of players who dream and think internationally might not think of right away, but they should?

KR: I can speak in behalf of all OFWs or imports that play overseas and also being somebody who gives a lot of talks to the younger generation as part of what I plan to do as a legacy. Even if they play locally or internationally, I always tell them, “If you want to ask something, if you want to ask for your salary, if you want to ask for money, always ask for something that will actually make you play happily.”

Some players, although they deserve it, they will ask for the moon and the stars, but when it comes to performance, they have two, three bad games, now they’re tight. They can’t even play. They can’t even shoot free throws properly. Because everybody’s eyes are on them now… Owners, business owners, and sponsors, they still look at how you perform, right? So, in international situations, like what you said, yes, you do get paid a lot, like a lot-a lot, but can you actually play when you miss a birthday, you miss a graduation, or your girlfriend actually breaks up with you?

Photo: Vyn Radovan for ALL-STAR

NG: During these times, was there ever a moment where you considered maybe it’s time to go home?

KR: A lot. A lot of times and sometimes it didn’t even have to reach the point. There will come a time na parang, why am I still here? You know, things like that. Despite all you said, the lifestyle, the glitz and the glamour, my heart is still in the Philippines. I have my family over here. At the end of the day, I still want to retire and stay close to my family. My parents are not getting any younger and being the eldest, I also want to have a family of my own. Mga ganon na situations, pero when you understand why you’re doing this, it wakes you up to reality like, yeah, I got to do this for myself. I got to do this for my future, my future family.

NG: Do you see your career eventually taking you back to the PBA and playing there?

KR: To be honest, yeah, I hope so.

NG: And will that still be with NLEX?

KR: Yes, I will, and honestly, I do hope so that I still get the chance to play for the PBA when time comes that I’ll be back. I love basketball so much and it’s given me an opportunity. If not for the PBA, you know, people still wouldn’t recognize me for who I was back then, probably, besides the national team. I was able to perform very well with NLEX. You know, my first year we made it to the semis for the first time in franchise history and yeah, I mean, I hope I get the chance to do that.

Photo: Vyn Radovan for ALL-STAR

NG: You also mentioned that you want to be a coach. Can you tell us more about that?

KR: Well, I feel like all roads lead to that, parang I really enjoy sharing my knowledge. It’s going to be a long journey. Obviously, after basketball. I want to play as much as I can first before I stress myself out and white my hair with all the players that I’ll be coaching and all the ego that I have to maintain in one room… Like, this was me 20 years ago (laughs)? But, yeah, I mean, I like to share my knowledge. I like to study the game, even now that I’m a player and gusto ko maka influence on how to play the game the right way and hopefully help a lot of careers in terms of their confidence, in terms of how they play, they grow as a player, things like that.

I might start at a lower scale, coaching, you know, high school basketball, college basketball, and eventually seeing myself as an assistant and then just learning from the people who’ve done it, you know, multiple decades already, and then see myself where it takes me 20 years from now.

NG: From a player’s perspective, you’ve been playing in the Philippines for the longest time, you’ve been to Japan, you’ve had your stints in the United States, and probably elsewhere in the world. You’ve seen the different media all over the world, basketball media, how they do it in different countries. What do you think the media in terms of Philippine sports can do better when it comes to covering the games and the athletes?

KR: Mas marami padin yung gumagawa ng tama kaysa sa mali. I’ve loved you guys, all the media people, since my high school, my college days, from all writing mediums: online, paper, magazines, everything. I’ve always had a great relationship with those people. For me, as a basketball player and getting old, too, like, I would only want to listen about basketball.

Whatever happens on the side, there will be a different area of media people who would ask that, right? But when it comes to pre-game, post-game conferences, individually as a team, you know, if you’d stick to the game, because that’s what we just did, you know, we just play or we’re about to play a game, you know, things like that, that would be really beneficial, I think. When it comes to media, of course, people love the drama. People love the narratives, stories behind the scenes, things like that. I get it. It’s part of it. I respect it. That’s why I’ve never really reacted badly when it comes to things like that, because I know where it’s all coming from.

Photo: Vyn Radovan for ALL-STAR

NG: What have you thought about the growth of the college game over the last five, six, seven years? And are there areas you like and don’t like? Tell us more.

KR: What I like about it, siguro, the competition, the growth of competition. Kasi before it was just, you know, Ateneo and La Salle who go to different countries to just perform, play, practice, and have camps over there. Now, all the other schools would go to different places also just to practice and see where they are right now. Boot camps and everything. Just the growth of talent, bro, that’s the biggest thing.

We might have had the dog in us during my time. Yeah, like everybody was a dog. Everybody was just willing to die on the court, things like that. And now kids are just so effin’ talented. The talent is surreal. The talent is unbelievable. I see it being somebody who watched a lot of teams and it’s amazing.

Photo: Vyn Radovan for ALL-STAR

NG: If you could have a five-minute conversation with your 20-year-old self, just five minutes, and prepare that person for what’s about to come, for what it’s like, what would you say?

KR: Probably, I would say, “Listen to your parents.” I would have a sit-down and talk to myself. I would say, “listen to your folks.” They’re there for a reason, whether you like it or not and there will be things in this world that no one will tell you, even if your friends, and sila lang makakapag sabi sayo. If you take it good or bad, at the end of the day, they said it for your best interest.

Because all those mistakes, all those lessons in the past, all those situations that have happened to me, parang if I could still go back ten years, I still wouldn’t change it. I don’t know, it might sound bad for a lot of people, but I’m me because of those experiences and I know I’m not a bad person and I think that’s the most important thing.

Stay tuned for the rest of our exclusive interview with Kiefer Ravena that will be posted on our YouTube channel. You can subscribe to ALL-STAR Magazine here.

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