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  • A Tale of Two Brothers: A Reluctant Star and a Passionate Player

    Ateneo's Isaac Go had no interest in basketball at first. It was his brother Gian who was — and still is — passionate about the sport.
    by Kitty Elicay .
To read this story in Tagalog, click here.

  • When 21-year-old Isaac Go brought his A-game to this season's UAAP conference, fans sat up and took notice. Who was this gentle giant suddenly pulling off the clutch shots? Isaac landed a memorable trey in Ateneo Blue Eagles’s do-or-die match against FEU Tamaraws in the semi-finals, forcing an overtime as it tied the game at 75 points with 8.5 seconds on the clock. The Blue Eagles eventually won the game.


    Isaac did it again during Game 3 of the nail-biting finals between Ateneo Blue Eagles and De La Salle Green Archers. He shot a three-pointer that sealed the championship for his team, a sweet victory after five years of defeat. After the win, everyone wanted a piece of Isaac Go.

    Isaac is trying his best not to let the attention get into his head. In one of his countless interviews after the Ateneo Blue Eagles clinched its ninth championship, he says, “My parents raised me well, and I won’t allow fame to change me.” 

    And if there is even a hint of entitlement, we're pretty sure Isaac's mom, Carol Go, will be the first to nip it at the bud, so to speak.

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    Recently, a photo of Isaac riding the train win went viral. People found it surprising he knew how to commute at all. In an email interview with SmartParenting.com.phCarol said Isaac, his older brother Gian, and younger sister, Miraella, were already commuting to school when they were kids, provided they were accompanied by an adult. 

    “When they went to college, they often took the LRT to school because it’s more convenient,” she says. Even as a family, they take the train to avoid traffic especially when Isaac has a game at the Araneta Coliseum. 

    Carol describes her and husband George's parenting style as conservative and traditional. She says there were certainly times that Isaac and his siblings didn't understand or agree with their discipline approach. But the kids obeyed because Carol and George did the number one rule when it came to parenting: Be your child's role models. 


    “We try to explain to them the reason behind everything we do,” Carol explains. “We try our best to lead by example, and we never get tired of reminding them of things they should or should not do.”

    If Isaac had any "matigas ang ulo" moments, there didn't seem to be a trace of it by the time he got into college. His parents never thought he could not juggle his studies (Isaac is taking up Management in Applied Chemistry in Ateneo) and playing basketball.

    “We were never worried about his academics because we already built a strong foundation,” Carol shares. “Unlike many kids today, Isaac would often share what happened in school or during practice. Through the things he shares, as parents, we can give advice.”

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    The funny thing was Isaac wasn't into basketball or any physical sport for that matter. In an essay for FHM.com.ph, his brother Gian wrote Isaac would rather play on his Game Boy or watch TV than hold a ball. In fact, Carol told Smart Parenting, “[Isaac] prefers to stay home and play with Pokémon figures, video games, Lego, or any toy that needs tinkering.”

    Carol explained they enrolled Isaac in sport acitvities to help deal with his asthma. It was Gian who got him interested in basketball.

    “He needed a playmate so [Isaac] was forced to play with him,” she says. “At that time, Xavier School (where the boys went to school) also had a training program to develop a pool of future varsity players. My husband and I were both working full-time, and it was more convenient if both boys will have the same schedule, [but] it was really hard for him [Isaac].”


    Gian took it upon himself to nurture Isaac’s love for the sport. Whenever Isaac, who idolized his older brother, would get tired during training, Gian would tell him, “One day you are going to make it to the UAAP,” he writes in FHM.

    “Back then, I was not even sure if I had told him the right things. I often asked myself if I gave him an achievable dream or held him to a standard that no one could reach,” Gian continues in the essay. “Isaac was not born to be a basketball player, aside from the fact that he had towered over everyone ever since we were kids.”


    It was Gian who reassured his parents that Isaac was destined for greater things. Carol admitted she and George doubted if Isaac would even make it to the UAAP.

    “He had zero athleticism and as a kid, he really struggled with the game. He was slow and gentle, not the qualities you look for in a physical and competitive sport!” Carol explains.

    “There was a lot of pressure and expectation from everybody because ‘sayang ‘yung height.’ As parents, it is really hard to know when to push or pull back. It even came to a point when we told Isaac it was all right to quit because we saw he was having a difficult time. But the condition was he had to choose another sport. That was when he realized he had already spent so much time and effort in the game; he didn’t want all his hard work to go to waste. He chose to continue and accept the challenges. From then on, he eventually learned to love the game and he was more determined to work harder.”

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    Eventually, both Gian and Isaac’s efforts paid off. Isaac made it to the RP Youth U16 national team. As Gian wrote in his essay, “It was a huge confidence booster. Here he saw that he could hang with the big boys and that he could actually play the game at a higher level.”

    While Isaac was on the rise, Gian couldn’t help but feel relegated to the sidelines, a feeling that became a reality when they both made it to the Ateneo Blue Eagles — except Gian wasn't on the team that would play in the UAAP. He was in "Team B," which serves as the Blue Eagles' training pool, according to The Guidon.

    Gian admitted in his FHM essay it made him jealous of his brother. He would often share his feelings with their parents, his “it’s not fair” rants making its way into their conversations.


    Carol saw the irony of the situation. “Imagine, it was [Gian] who was very passionate about the game. He literally breathed basketball — spending all his free time playing, reading, writing about it. Then here comes the reluctant brother who has the opportunity to live out his dreams.”

    Seeing one son “succeed” more than the other certainly challenged Carol and George's parenting skills. How can they manage the sibling rivalry and jealousy? What can they do so it does not become a point of pain and resentment in the brothers' future? They made sure this family tenet influenced their conversations and decisions: “We have always believed that the success of one member is the success of the whole family.”

    As Gian writes, “[My parents] helped me realize that sometimes things were beyond my control and that amidst everything that was going on, I needed to be happy for Isaac because after all, he is my brother.” 

    Gian dedicated himself in helping Isaac fulfill his potential. After his final playing year in Team B, he became a member of the Blue Eagles’ support staff. “Gian was mature enough to accept his fate, but he had no ill feelings toward his brother,” Carol shares. “He is Isaac’s mentor and number one supporter. Until now, he continues to guide and work with him. Without him, Isaac will not be where he is now.”

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    Even with his brother Gian by his side, things weren’t all that easy for the gentle giant. When Isaac entered Ateneo, he was standing at 6’10 and yet all eyes were on fellow big men, Gideon Babilonia and Nigerian Chibueze Ikeh. But the team’s head coach, Tab Baldwin, took notice. “As soon as I saw him play, I said this kid has something,” he tells ABS-CBN Sports.

    Baldwin knew Isaac had potential, but the boy he famously referred to as the “big, fat, kid” needed to get in shape if he wanted to get better in the game. “I told Isaac, ‘You’re not gonna eat rice anymore.’ And he said, ‘But my mom will get upset with me if I don’t eat rice,’” Tab tells ABS-CBN Sports.

    “Actually, it was his father who said that [he will get upset if Isaac doesn’t eat rice],” Carol explains to us. “In traditional Chinese culture, it is impolite to eat viands without rice. We trained them not to be picky eaters and eat whatever is served, rice included. But we also had to learn and adjust to follow the recommendation of the coaches for him to lose weight.”


     “Gian is Isaac’s mentor and number one supporter. Without him, Isaac will not be where he is now.”—mom Carol Go

    Carol says she followed Coach Baldwin’s orders and adjusted Isaac's meals to help him lose weight. Unlike other kids, Isaac and Gian prefer to bring their own food to school — yes, from grade school to college. “It works for them because not only do they prefer homecooked meals but they also save time and money since they don’t have to line up during lunch break or spend their allowance,” Carol says.

    Taking his diet and nutrition seriously was one of the signs that Isaac was no longer the boy who was forced to play a sport. He had fallen in love with the game, and Gian saw how determined he was to make it to the top. “He was now the one initiating morning workouts. He was the one asking for my opinion on his game, working out which areas he could still improve on. Most importantly, he started to own up to his poor performance instead of blaming it on factors he had no control over,” Gian writes in his essay.

    Despite the hard work, it took some time before Isaac got recognized for what he was bringing to the team. As his mother described it, “It was a long and hard journey...with a lot of hitches.” In 2016, he made a clutch shot during their Final 4 game against the FEU Tamaraws — he did it while sporting a bloody nose. But that season, the Ateneo Blue Eagles bowed down to their De La Salle Green Archers rivals in a two-game sweep at the UAAP Finals.

    In 2017, Go fumbled early on in Season 80, missing a crucial shot against DLSU in the elimination round, denying his team a sweep. It was their lone loss in the elimination round.


    During his struggles, his mom and dad made sure to show their unwavering support. “I have always felt it was more important for me not to miss the games where he didn’t have any or limited playing time because it is when he is down that he needs us the most,” Carol says. “Just by being there and a few words of encouragement matters a lot.”


    “As the saying goes, you are only as good as your last game. You have to be thankful for the opportunity to play. If you win, that’s a bonus, and if you lose, move on and work harder.”

    Isaac’s mom also knows not to prod too much especially when Isaac is feeling down. She knows that there are times when she must leave him alone and give him some space and quiet time. “He has always been a role player, never a star. That’s what keeps him grounded and motivates him to work hard.”

    Isaac may be the man of the hour, the one who made the basket that secured his team’s victory, but he knows from experience it's more important to focus on improving his skills more than anything. No matter what lies in the future, he can count on his parents and siblings to be behind him every step of the way. And they couldn’t be any prouder. 

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