Tata Merced: A PBA player turned preacher

His favorite hangout place in the University of San Carlos (USC) Boys High campus is Court 1. And just by this hint, you can imagine his passion for basketball. The same passion made him a varsity then led him to dream of playing at the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) one day.

Lawrence F D Merced, who is known to his friends as Tata, is very much into basketball and academics too. He admitted setting a goal for himself to be in his class Top 10 list, saying he wanted to do things excellently and that’s both in basketball and academics.

Merced attributes his love for the sports to his father. “He works as a ship captain. And every time he comes home from his trips, he would always bring a ball. He would even take us to Manila just to watch MICAA (Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletic Association) games.”

Coach Tata Merced
Coach Tata shown here in one of his summer leagues. This photo is taken at Cansohong, Talisay.

Making it to the school’s varsity team was quite a question. He said: “I had two elder brothers at USC Boys High. Both were varsity players too. When I was 1st year student, they were wondering if I’ll ever make it to the varsity team because I was smaller compared to my brothers.”

All doubts however were put to an end as he became a point guard of the 1978 USC Baby Warriors Team. And so, the dream continues and his eyes were fixed on trying out for the RP National Team as his gate pass to the PBA.

The road to PBA

At the age of 18, Merced moved to Manila. He studied Industrial Engineering in Adamson University.

True to his dream, he tried out for the RP National Team in 1982 as a step closer to PBA. But the road wasn’t easy. He was still on the Top 20 players but he failed on the last cut of 15.

Never giving up on his goal, Merced tried it out but still did not make in 1983 and then in 1984.

“After three failed attempts, I was so down and discouraged. I went into drugs, vices, women, had class failures and was so lost in Manila,” shared Merced.

His turning point

When a friend of his cooked a plate without a food, that was Merced’s turning point. He said the incident made him realize that what is happening to his life is no longer acceptable.

“I really prayed to God. I asked God three things: 1) Let me get into the PBA; 2) Let me know what is the purpose of my life; 3) Make me an engineer. You see, I was already a fourth year in Adamson at that time,” said Merced.

Merced saw the power of prayer and God granted his first wish. He may not have made it to the RP National Team in three years, but he was able to make it to the PBA in less than three months.

Yes, Merced finally reached his biggest dream. He was officially playing for PBA under the Great Taste team in 1985. But then, he was not so happy living his PBA dream.

“I was a rookie and was very good in playing using marijuana. But since Coach Baby Dalupan fielded me always in the 2nd quarter I was then sober and did not know how to play anymore. My first three games was so bad that my coach benched me even during practice,” he said.

Invitation to a fellowship

During those times the Industrial Engineering team he coached in Adamson gave him a bible as a gift on his birthday. His teammate in GTC Joel Banal invited him to a fellowship. When he was there, his second prayer was answered.

“The preaching was so powerful. ‘Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life’. This phrase hit me. I realized that Jesus is the life and He was the one I have been looking for since,” said Merced.

Enlightened by the Holy Spirit and his reading of the bible, Merced found his purpose in life. He did not pursue his engineering studies, but went to bible school.

From religion to relationship

Merced came back to Cebu and spent four years to bible school.

“I preached the gospel through sports. And then it struck me. I graduated in High School with an Athlete of the Year Award and Orator of the Year Award. I know I’m really meant for this,” he said, citing Jeremiah 29:11-12 and 1:4-5 where God said: “For I know the plans I have for you…before you were even born I know you already.”

When asked how his parents reacted to his being a Christian, Merced said: “My father has no comment but my mom went to Manila when I was water baptized at 24 as Jesus was at 30. God said I love you and sent Jesus to save you. (John 3:16). The greatest commandment is to love me back with all your heart by obeying my commands. (John 14:23). Simply said, it’s a relationship!”

Today, Merced is a full-time sports missionary with Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He is married and blessed with two girls. One of his daughters is also a full-time minister who preaches the gospel through music.

As part of his mission, Merced works as a basketball coach in Cebu City Sports Centre for nine years now. “Thank God, I have hundreds of students every year here. I teach them not just basketball but also character-building using God’s word (Rom 12:2) ’I tell them that Jesus is not only the best character builder but most importantly the eternal life giver. (1John 5:13, Luke 10:20). That if you believe in Him and obey His word continually you will not only get trophies here and there but you are a champion forever.

The former PBA player also host a radio program in 98.7 DYFR FM for Christian Sports.

Coaching philosophy

Merced preaches the gospel via coaches, communities, clinics, leagues, campus, camps and whatever opportunity is given to him. He is now known as Coach Tata.

Merced has five things that he wants to share to coaches and athletes. “This is my coaching philosophy. 1) God first; 2) Character; 3) Talent; 4) Love your team; and 5) Love others. This is my joy – preaching the gospel through sports.”

Indeed, so many things have happened after he stepped out of USC Boys High. Reconnect with Coach Tata in the upcoming USC Boys Class ‘78 grand reunion on January 16 to 22, 2018.

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