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You may not find him on Hendon Mob, but Joey Mente can be found frequenting the poker establishments of Manila and is slowly establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with in his new found career as a poker pro.
This former Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) two-time Slam Dunk Champion has long since retired from the hardwood floors of the nation’s hoops scenes, but Joey Mente still brings that competitive fire to the felt.
“Poker is a lot like basketball,” the wily 5’9” former point guard told Somuchpoker, in the vernacular. “There’s a lot of scouting involved and once a weak spot is found, aggression takes over.”
But never in his wildest dreams did this pride of Capul, Northern Samar province (thus far, the only PBA product from here) ever expect to be in the midst of the poker realm.
He was a celebrated cager out of the Lyceum of the Philippines University (LPU) and turned pro as a 23-year-old upstart for the Iloilo Megavoltz in the now defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA)—the rival professional league of the PBA.
Mente would earn the reputation of fearing no one—even the tallest players and the toughest defenders—as his gung-ho style endeared him to local fans and many youngsters took to his unorthodox playing style and called it a breath of fresh air.
He went on to represent the Philippines in the 2001 William Jones Cup and joined the PBA not longer after, being the tenth overall draft pick by the storied San Miguel Beer franchise—the winningest in PBA history.
Joey Mente helped the Beermen to two titles, including the much coveted All-Filipino Cup (considered the crown jewel of all the conferences played in the league) in his rookie year as well as the 2005 Fiesta Conference (teams are allowed one foreign reinforcement).
In between that, he bagged the above-mentioned Slam Dunk crowns back-to-back in 2001 and 2002—still the shortest player to snare that accomplishment.
He was eventually traded to the fledgling Welcoat franchise in 2006, and little did he know that that would be his introduction his future post-retirement career.
“I got introduced to poker playing with my teammates (including former slot man Jun Jun Cabatu who is now a notable high stakes grinder) and took to it quite quickly,” he recalls. “I never thought about poker much until later on.”
In 2008, he left the PBA to play for the newly formed Liga Pilipinas (a regional basketball league akin to the MBA) where he was named the inaugural Most Valuable Player (MVP) and eventually played overseas for the Indonesia Warriors in the Asean Basketball League (ABL) until finally hanging up his sneakers in 2012 where went back to LPU to coach his alma mater.
In between, he turned recreational poker into serious immersion.
“I studied a lot and learned that it is a sport, much like basketball wherein there were standard moves, special plays for certain situations and an element where aggression can help take it down,” Mente elaborates. “I’m a tough competitor and now I bring that with me at the poker tables.”
Recently, Mente took down the Pokerstars Live Manila 200k guaranteed event and has cashed in several local tourneys since turning pro (in his new career) in 2013—as a house player for a popular card room in Manila.
Article by Noel Zarate