Jackson's Magsaysay goes from a casual pool player to national champ in about three years

Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Joseph Magsaysay poses for photos after winning the 8-ball Red Tier title at a tournament in Las Vegas. (Submitted photo)

Joseph Magsaysay is the ultimate Cinderella story.

The 30-year old went from a casual pool player three years ago to the APA National Singles 8-ball champion in the Red Tier in April.

How Magsaysay got there is the remarkable part.

Magsaysay, who is from the Philippines, moved to the United States in 2007 mainly because of his wife, Abigail, and her search for a job as a physical therapist.

The couple settled down in Jackson in 2009 and fell in love with the area.

Joseph Magsaysay of Jackson won the American Poolplayers Association's National Singles 8-ball championship in the Red Tier during a tournament in Las Vegas. (Laura Simon)

Magsaysay admits he was not much of a pool player growing up. He played "once or twice every six months" in a bar with buddies.

He instead was an avid Los Angeles Lakers fan and a die-hard Brett Favre fan.

It wasn't until one afternoon that Magsaysay turned on the TV to find a commercial asking if he was interested in pool.

"Three years ago I saw the advertisement on television saying, 'Are you a pool player? Do you enjoy making new friends?' I called the toll-free number and Brandi [Bass] answered and tried to find a team for me," he said. "Good things happen when she helps out. I'm so thankful for all she's done for me."

Bass, the local league operator and franchise owner of the American Poolplayers Association, connected Magsaysay with a team led by Michael Hess.

Hess told Magsaysay one of his players was on vacation and that Magsaysay was welcome to fill in while the player was gone.

It was the beginning of a friendship and Magsaysay's education.

"Michael Hess, 65 to 70 percent of what I know about pool came from my captain, Mike," Magsaysay said. "I used to play pool back in college, but not competitive or serious, just horsing around, maybe once or twice every six months. So when I joined the team, he saw that I had potential and that I was coachable, because one thing my captain likes are team members that are coachable. We had a great relationship from the start. He coached me and taught me everything I know."

Magsaysay continues to play with Hess' team once a week in an area league.

The team consists of Magsaysay, Hess, Amy Hess, Andy and Gail Auer, T.J. Nixon, and Todd and Amy Morris.

Magsaysay discovered his talent while playing for Hess' team. The team won the regional title last year to earn a berth to the national tournament in Las Vegas, which proved a bittersweet moment for Magsaysay. The day of the team tournament was the same day his wife was due with their first child, Geno.

"Everyone on the team was kind of disappointed because all of us are very valuable and we want to go to Vegas in full force," he said. "My wife told me that if I won't be by her side when she gives birth not to show my face ever again. So I obviously chose my wife, which was the right thing to do."

The bad timing was repaid in full in singles competition this year.

Magsaysay qualified for the regional this year with a trip to Las Vegas on the line. But he finished second, which appeared to dash his dreams of competing under the bright lights on the Vegas strip.

But Bass called two weeks after the regional. The regional champ couldn't make it, so the APA had invited Magsaysay to take his place.

"I was so excited," Magsaysay said. "I was so disappointed when I was just runner-up during singles regional. ... I came up short, and then Brandi gave me a call maybe two weeks after the regionals and told me the guy that beat me wasn't able to go. I was jumping up and down. I told my wife this was my chance at last to go to Vegas as a pool player."

It wasn't Magsaysay's first trip to Vegas, something he believes helped him in the tournament.

"Most of the players there, it was their first time," he said. "And as a first-time tourist, they tend to not be focused and tend to relax and enjoy and get drunk and party. Don't get me wrong, I also enjoyed my time over there, but after I won the whole thing. Because it's so hard to party and enjoy the same time you're playing pool around the clock."

Magsaysay made the trip to Vegas by himself. It was his first time away from his son, which motivated him even more.

"I thought if I spend time away from him, I need to win to make up for it," he said.

Magsaysay won his first match before falling into the losers bracket after his second. The first player to win four games wins the match.

"When I went to Vegas during my first match, I was a bit nervous because it was my first time to play over there," he said. "But I'd been to Vegas already before. The first two games of the first match I was nervous, but when I won a game I became composed and focused and ended up winning my first match."

Magsaysay's plan to stay focused and avoid the night life appeared to pay off during his second match.

"I was hoping and praying that I'd be able to play a drunk guy or someone who's not as focused as I am so it would be an easy win for me," he said. "But that backfired, and unfortunately I lost because that drunk guy can play pretty well drunk."

It was a long road back to the semifinals. Magsaysay captured six wins over a 19-hour span to crash into the semifinals.

He went to bed at 4 a.m. and woke up two hours later because he didn't want to miss his alarm for his 11 a.m. match.

He won his semifinal match then defeated Gabriel Valdez in the finals to claim the title, which included $15,000, a championship ring worth $1,800, a new break stick and a cue stick with a cue case.

"On Sunday I felt nothing," Magsaysay said. "At that point I was just enjoying the ride because even if I lost the finals, I still won $9,000, and that is a lot of money."

Magsaysay is the first to admit that his style isn't flashy or fancy, but he enjoys the mental aspect of pool much more than the imaginative shots.

"I love the game of pool because you can break your opponent down mentally by playing a lot of defense," Magsaysay said. "My captain influenced me a lot on playing defensive shots. I'm not a shot maker. I'm not a lights-out pool player. I really rely on playing safety and defense. I want to play mind games on the table."

Magsaysay spent about an hour a day practicing in the days leading up to Las Vegas, but he's hardly picked up a stick since returning home.

"Family comes first," he said.

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