CALAMBA, Laguna - The first time the name Jordan Heading was mentioned in Philippine basketball circles, he was a young talent who helped Batang Gilas finish fourth in the 2011 FIBA Asia Under-16 Championship.
A decade later, he's out to reintroduce himself to Filipino fans as a member of Gilas Pilipinas Men.
"I was over here on a basketball trip. I was practicing with Ateneo and I was living with Kirk Long at that time. That was my first introduction to high-level Filipino basketball. I just practiced there until I got introduced to coach Olsen and that's how I got to play for Batang Gilas," recalled Heading, talking about how then-Batang Gilas head coach Olsen Racela got to know him.
Back then, a number of players weren't released by their respective schools for Batang Gilas duties. This forced Racela's hand to look elsewhere for talent and his search led to Heading.
After that stint, the natural transition would've been to stay in the Philippines and look for a collegiate team. It wasn't meant to be, however.
"I don't think I got serious interest from schools. I was approached by a couple of agents, but there were not any colleges that tried to recruit me to play for them," narrated Heading. "But coming back to the Philippines was always at the back of my mind. I wanted to try out the US college route and if it did not work out, I would have come back here."
There was no need for Heading to come home just yet as he then landed on his feet with California Baptist University (CBU).
"It was always a dream of mine ever since I was a kid. I watched March Madness for as long as I can remember and I wanted to participate in that kind of environment. I wanted to take my game to the next level and you go to the States to do that," he expressed.
"I was blessed to go to a great university, I had a great time, I developed my game a lot there," he added.
While Heading was tearing it up for the Lancers, he admitted that Filipino agents made their presence felt once more.
"There were a couple of people who talked to me to gauge what my interests were and what I wanted to do in the future, not necessarily to recruit me to go back to the Philippines. They just wanted to keep my memories fresh in the Philippines and see the opportunities over here," he said.
Heading posted his best numbers in his final year in college when he averaged 15.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.6 assists as his school transitioned to US NCAA's Div. I. When it was all said and done for him as a Lancer, he was atop CBU's list for most career triples made with 231 and games played with 128.
After college, Heading joined San Miguel Alab Pilipinas in the ASEAN Basketball League. Unfortunately, just as they were about to put everything together, the pandemic hit, canceling their season.
Although it was a frustrating end, a window of opportunity opened for Heading as the PBA allowed draftees to apply even without playing in the D-League. Without second thoughts, he took the opportunity.
"The PBA was always a goal for me. Professional basketball has always been my dream and the PBA is a great league. For me, it was either I ended up in the NBL in Australia or here in the Philippines. I'm ecstatic either way," shared Heading.
Just then, another door opened for Heading, even though he never thought Gilas Pilipinas was in the cards for him.
"The invitation to join Gilas was pretty late actually. I already applied for the PBA Draft and I didn't necessarily expect the invitation because I'm not necessarily well-known in the Philippines," remarked Heading. "I got the call from coach Tab (Baldwin) three or four weeks before the draft and I was over the moon. After he called, I thanked them and said I'd take some time to weigh my options."
"I talked to my agent and he walked me through what it would look like and I also called coach Jimmy Alapag about his experience with Gilas. Obviously, he had a tremendous stint with Gilas and after reaching out to him, it was obvious to me that this is an incredible opportunity," he continued.
While Heading is one of many new faces in the squad, he's already one of the veterans in terms of age - meaning he has the extra challenge of balancing learning the system with leading the younger players.
"I'm just trying to learn as much as I can, may it be from coach Tab or the Nieto brothers who have been around his system for a long time," explained Heading. "But with the things I do know about the game, I try to really be outspoken and lead the young guys to show them how to really compete and play good basketball."
A decade ago, Heading first wore the country's colors in a youth competition. By next month, he gets to do so again, this time versus a high-profile opponent in South Korea.
Although the Filipino-Australian knows the history, he won't be heading into that game burdened with the past.
"I don't take it as pressure, but as a huge opportunity and a huge goal for us to try and achieve," detailed Heading. "We want to come out as a young side and show that we really belong on the international scene. We're putting so much work here in the 'bubble' and we're excited to go up against strong competition."