Isaac Go: Doubted turned decorated

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Photo by Kelly Veneracion

BEFORE HIS name became another essential piece in the future of Philippine basketball, George Isaac Go (BS MAC ‘20) carved out a legacy built with leadership and poise at the collegiate level. However, it is unknown to many that the former Blue Eagle—whose clutch DNA became critical in Ateneo’s recent title runs—came from a long and arduous athletic journey.

Unlikely star

Compared to other athletes, Go had no interest in basketball at a young age as he preferred staying at home to play with his video games and toys. It was his brother Gian who loved the sport and forced Isaac to play with him. Everytime Go found himself quitting, Gian encouraged him to keep going and fostered his love for basketball, promising that Go would one day get to play in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP). However, Go’s lack of athleticism and aggressiveness on the court stirred serious doubts on his future in the sport.

In Xavier Grade School, Go would often find himself warming the bench with minimal playing time. Seeing the young athlete’s struggle, Go’s family couldn’t help but question his ability to make it to the UAAP, assuring Go that switching to another sport was an option.

Despite this, the former Blue Eagle was determined to grow and develop in basketball as he eventually decided to embrace the sport. It was only when he entered Xavier High School and qualified for the RP Under-16 Youth Team that Go started reaping what he had sown, having the chance to represent the country in the FIBA Asia U16 in Nha Trang City, Vietnam.

Stepping foot into the Loyola Heights as a Blue Eagle, Go was once again faced with doubters. As a 250-pound big man, Go certainly carried a lot of weight that hindered his mobility. Apart from Go’s outstanding basketball skills, Ateneo Men’s Basketball Team Head Coach Tab Baldwin revealed that he did not expect much from the athlete in the beginning. Baldwin initially viewed Go as an intelligent yet unathletic and out of shape athlete, pushing the veteran coach to intensify the conditioning drills and put Go on a diet.

As a student-athlete majoring in Management of Applied Chemistry, Go found managing his time to be his biggest challenge. In an effort to juggle his academic and athletic responsibilities, Go had to forgo most of his time with friends to focus on what needed to be done.

“I only have 24 hours [a day], that as much as every opportunity presents itself, I can’t grab everything. I have to allocate time for rest, for family, [and] for studying. It’s trying to do that balancing act, that’s really the most difficult challenge,” Go explained.

Despite having been confronted with numerous hurdles in his journey, Go has continued to exemplify true sportsmanship even amid failures. For him, there are a lot of things that are out of anyone’s control despite doing one’s best. What matters most is how one seeks to improve himself after failing.

“Sometimes, no matter how much effort you put in, talagang pinush mo (when you really push it), you gave it your all, talagang you’re gonna fall short sometimes. You just have to accept it,” he said, “That maybe next time, you can look for ways to improve, but at this moment, your best is just for here.”

Conquering doubts

Learning from his prior experiences and the criticism he’s endured, Go became more motivated to work on his craft. Eventually, the player who was overlooked for his frame began to redefine the center position with his floor spacing, composure under pressure, and unparalleled basketball IQ.

The 6’8” big man’s unique perks that were rare for his stature reaped recognition on a national level, with his name being picked first overall by the Columbian Dyip in the 2019 Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Rookie Draft. Go also suited up for the latest Mighty Sports Philippines unit that captured the title in the Dubai International Basketball Championship last 2020. The then 23-year-old youngster benefited from the experience as he was exposed to veteran personnel such as Andray Blatche, Renaldo Balkman, and Beau Belga.

What stands out in the decorated athlete’s plethora of accolades is the honor of being appointed as captain of the national team. Go’s leadership pedigree proved to be invaluable in a youthful yet talented Gilas cadets roster which exceeded expectations in both the FIBA Asia Cup and Olympic Qualifiers held in 2021.

The Go-led squad that was also armed with other former Blue Eagles performed sensationally in the world stage, tallying an impressive 6-0 record in the 2021 FIBA Asia Qualifiers. What some thought of as a collegiate-caliber Gilas team even engaged in a slugfest against the basketball powerhouse Serbia in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament last July.

Go, who averaged 3.7 points and 4.3 rebounds in a quality 12 minutes per contest during the Asian tourney was an embodiment to the worth of intangibles in the game. His unselfish mentorship was second to none, and his efforts in building chemistry through preparation and communication were valuable.

Despite an already overwhelming basketball resume, Go still continues to take strides in preparation for his future athletic and professional careers.

In the name of versatility

Following his participation in Gilas Pilipinas’ surprising run on the world stage, Go has been tending to a multitude of matters. Now, he is in current negotiations with the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) on his future as part of the program.

“Currently, my Gilas contract is up until February with SBP. We’re looking into contract negotiations and the possibility of me staying with the program and going through with it. Especially with the 2023 World Cup in mind,” he said.

The three-time UAAP champion may be renowned for his savviness on the hardwood, but Go also prides himself in other areas that require sharp intellect as he remains to be a student-athlete. Go is currently completing his master’s degree on Sustainability Management in the Loyola Schools. Already in his thesis year, the well-rounded athlete hopes to finish this academic endeavor by 2022.

On top of his academic and athletic duties, the former Blue Eagle also flaunts a presence in the NBA TV Philippines community, filling in as a writer for NBA Philippines and an occasional figure in the show NBA Hype.

When asked about what can be expected of him in the future, the versatile athlete spoke of a continued pursuit of perfecting his craft—a true testament to Go’s untiring dedication to do more.

“Even though the quarantine has been tough, I’ve made strides in my game both physically and mentally that hopefully could surprise people,” Go revealed. “There are a lot of opportunities in the works that hopefully I am able to capitalize on and do my best in,” he added.

Being the decorated player that he is, Isaac Go’s legacy on and off the court may have already been cemented throughout history, but one thing that separates him from the rest is his unrelenting passion for excellence in everything he does.  



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