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Paolo Hernandez: The Clutch Cardinal

Article by: Albert L. Dela Cruz, Alexandra Isabelle G. Delavin, and Michaella Louise A. Llopis

Graphics by: Albert L. Dela Cruz

March 28, 2024

After redefining their spot on the court, the Mapúa Cardinals left sports analysts in shock following their finals appearance in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Season 99 Men’s Basketball Tournament. The journey, however, was without a doubt filled with twists and turns that were conquered by the drive of every Cardinal who raised the red and gold flag – one of which is the Cardinals’ Clutch Veteran Paolo Hernandez.  

From being a key player in bringing home the championship title for the Red Robins back in 2018 to being a part of the Cardinals, who stamped their place in the collegiate league, Paolo has jumped through hoops and dribbled past challenges. As he foregoes his last playing year in the NCAA, The New Builder highlights his perseverance and humility that etched his name in the Cardinals’ history books as one of the most remarkable players in recent years. 


From Dreams to Dribbles 

From the tender age of 7, Paolo had already found a sense of belonging in the game of basketball, with his father accompanying him inside the court. Drawing inspiration from seasoned Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) figures such as James Yap and Peter June Simon, Paolo channeled this admiration into crafting his unique playing style and making a name for himself.  

Derived from his birthday, January 9, which is also the feast of Black Nazarene, Paolo has since carried the same number for his jersey whenever he steps on the court. A devout Catholic, the Cardinal Clutch-Man finds his motivation and dedication to the game through his faith in the Lord. 

Lacing up for NCAA 

The Shooting Guard began his red and gold journey when Coach Randy Alcantara, the former Red Robins Coach and now Cardinals Head Coach, granted him a try-out opportunity during his high school days, igniting his legacy in the NCAA.  

With Coach Randy welcoming Paolo into the Cardinals’ nest, the steady shooter wasted no time proving his skills on the hardwood floors. Winning it all in the NCAA Season 94 Junior’s Basketball finals with a remarkable performance and scoring 33 points built on seven three-pointers and 12 rebounds, Paolo earned the Finals Most Valuable Player award in the same season. With their triumph being one for the books, this easily became one of Paolo’s most memorable memories in his growing career.  

The 6-foot-3 Shooting Guard was always a reliable player  – which echoed when he joined the Cardinals during his college years. When the team had a rocky start after a five-game losing skid at the start of the NCAA Season 95, then-rookie Paolo chipped in an average of 15.5 points, four rebounds, and two steals in the next two games to lead the red and gold out of the drought and win Collegiate Press Corps NCAA Player of the Week over league veterans. 

He then became a household name in MU in what was just his second playing season. Competing alongside then-Cardinals turned PBA players Warren Bonifacio and Adrian Nocum in NCAA Season 97, Paolo's continued growth as a player was recognized, granting him the season’s Most Improved Player Award after being hailed as the Top 10 in the Statistical Points ranking. 


Fast-forward to NCAA Season 99, Paolo's stardom continued, but along with it remained his humble nature. While the Cardinals fell during Season 98, he kept his faith in his team. From dominating in the following pre-season leagues to taking everyone by surprise, the Cardinals have risen in the rankings and marked their first time in Mapúa history to end the elims round as the top seed, “’Yun nga naging ano namin ‘yun - naging inspiration namin ‘yun to do more [...] kasi going to Season 99 wala talagang nag-e-expect sa’min.” the player shared when asked how the doubts that surrounded them turned into motivation to defy the expectations.  


Throughout his time, Paolo did not shy away in pressure situations, creating electrifying atmospheres with his crunch time performances and even earning the moniker “Captain Clutch” after sinking cold-blooded daggers, which earned him another Player of the Week plum.  

“..To top of it sinasabi ko kasi na mga teammates ko ‘rin yung naging part sa mga shots ko na ‘yun.. and overall kasi God’s grace talaga, [...] Naging instrument Niya lang ako para mapakita ‘yung kaya niyang gawin para sating lahat.” Hernandez shared regarding his clutch performances. 

Beyond the Buzzer 

Beyond shooting hoops, Paolo also fondly recalls the friendships he forged within the gates of red and gold – one of which was with fellow NCAA star Clint Escamis, who was alongside him experiencing the highs and lows from their junior days until they became seasoned veteran athletes. 

While consistently being both a standout player in the NCAA and on his team, the Cardinal still shows humility by acknowledging his teammates when asked about the elements to his success, “...credits to the teammates, sa mga rookies na kahit papa’no sumunod sa’min, naniwala sa’min, kaya naging buo kami bago bago kami sumabak sa Season 99.” 

Aside from being a cornerstone of the Cardinals during crucial plays, Paolo has always set his mind in the prioritization of his academic pursuits.  

Facing the challenge of meeting expectations and handling pressures throughout his journey, Paolo’s success mantra for being a stellar cardinal athlete revolves around commitment, effort, and effective time management. The Cardinal Clutch-Man shared that MU served as a catalyst for him to manage his time well.  

Offering advice to upcoming rookies in the much-awaited NCAA Season 100, he emphasizes not forgetting about their studies while driving the team to achieve victory together.  

Moving up to the professional leagues 

As Paolo prepares to take the next step in his career, the former Shooting Guard remarks that he takes pride in representing the Cardinals on and off the court. Paolo credits the university for influencing his growth as an exceptional collegiate student-athlete, expressing his gratitude for its role in his accomplishments. "At the end of the day, very thankful talaga na sa Mapúa ako napunta; sa Mapúa ako magkaka-degree.” 

The AB Psychology student also expresses his heartfelt gratitude to the whole Mapúan community and its alumni, who supported and believed in him from the beginning to the impending end of his flight as a Cardinal.  Embodying the quote "No man is an island," the former Shooting Guard of Mapúa also appreciates the collective effort of his team who gave him an opportunity to show his full potential and stayed with him throughout his playing years. 


Having once looked up to established professional basketball players, Paolo now shares his message for aspiring student-athletes, "...gawin niyo lang ‘yung best niyo and maging committed kayo sa kung ano’ng gusto iyong maging sa mga ginagawa niyo, and hardwork, ‘yun talaga, hardwork and just focus on your goals sa kung may gusto kayong marating. Just do your best and wala kayong pagsisisihan."  

As he ventures in the professional league, Paolo believes that his baccalaureate degree will aid him as he takes his basketball career onto the next level by pursuing a tryout for the PBA. While Captain Clutch’s departure is imminent, his legacy will always remain; a Cardinal who took flight at the highest levels of competition yet remained grounded and rooted as he rises to make his name – Paolo Hernandez – known.    

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