5 stories during NU's championship celebration

By Rick Olivares, Unblogged Sports | Updated Thursday October 16, 2014 - 10:57am
VICTORY AT LAST: Members and supporters of the triumphant National U Bulldogs, led by team owner Hans Sy (inset), savor the sweet taste of victory after ending a 60-year chase for the UAAP championship. JUN MENDOZA

A seat to history

Dr. Arlene Royo, who used to be National University's representative to the UAAP Board, made her way to the court as the Bulldogs and their supporters whooped it up after annexing its second ever UAAP Men's Basketball Championship - one that was 60 years in the making. She used to be very visible and active in school as well as all the games especially when her family, the Paguias, were co-owners of the school, but since the Sy family took over operations, Dr. Royo has stayed mostly in the background.

She walked close to the sideline near the officials' table then pulled out her wallet. She then faced her wallet towards the celebration that had engulfed the court.

There were three pictures inside her wallet - Leticia "Mommy" Jhocson-Paguia, the matriarch of NU, as well as her brothers Sonny and Bam Paguia. The former served as the Bulldogs' longest tenured coach while the latter was the school's former board representative. All three have shifted from this mortal coil with Bam Paguia passing away due to cardiac arrest early this year.

"I was there when NU won its first ever UAAP Men's Basketball championship (in 1954)," said Dr. Royo. "Si Mommy nandun din."

"My brothers were there for the tough times. Sonny never saw things get better but Bam did. I know they'll want to see this."

Dr. Royo held her wallet up high for a few minutes before she placed it back inside her bag while wiping the tears away. "This means so much not only to us but to all who ever went to National University."

While his team posed at center court and began whooping it up, Eric Altamirano dutifully finished some interviews before joining his victorious NU Bulldogs.

Déjà vu all over again

Twenty-eight years ago, Altamirano presided over the University of the Philippines' attack as it wrested the title from three-peat seeking University of the East.

Just as they did in 1986, Altamirano's team won it with defense. Back then, they couldn't solve the riddle of Jerry Codinera. In the finals, with Altamirano busting open UE's zone, Benjie Paras found the space to work inside and UE came undone.

This year, with Alfred Aroga owning the paint and JJ Alejandro, Rev Diputado and Gelo Alolino sniping from the outside, the Bulldogs, no longer the underdogs, claimed their championship.

Altamirano joins Baby Dalupan, Joel Banal and Norman Black as the only four coaches to win a PBA and UAAP championship. He also joins Arturo Valenzona and Fritz Gaston as the only players to win a UAAP title as a player and as head coach. Valenzona won both with FEU 1961 as a player and 1991 as coach while Gaston won with Ateneo in 1976-77 and 1988 as head coach of the Blue Eagles. Dalupan won titles as head coach of the UE Warriors and the Ateneo Blue Eagles to go with his championships in the PBA with Crispa, Great Taste, and Purefoods. He won a football championship with Ateneo but not for its basketball team. Banal won a title as a player in Mapua and as head coach of the Cardinals in the NCAA and as head coach of the Blue Eagles in the UAAP. He also won with Talk 'N' Text.

When asked to describe in one word this championship, the word "redemption" came to mind. After the galling Final Four defeat to UST last season where the Bulldogs owned a twice-to-beat advantage, they crumbled against the physical play of UST. Quite a few people at the Sampaloc school felt that Altamirano should be replaced. But top management stuck with him, and he repaid their faith by delivering a championship.

"The feeling… is close," said Altamirano, groping for words when asked if there was anything similar to 1986 and 2014.

Assistant coach Joey Guanio, who was a teammate of Coach E on that UP championship squad, respectfully disagreed. "It's the same. We ended a long drought back then and we did it again. But Eric is right, it is vindication for our system and what we have been trying to accomplish."

"Siguro last season, we were not yet ready for the championship," chimed in Vic Icasiano, assistant coach with NU. "Our biggest learning - we had to play, win and lose as a team. Not as individuals but as a team."

Five on five

When Hans Sy's family purchased control of National University five years ago, he outlined a five-year program to win the coveted men's basketball crown. Everyone took him for his word. With the SM machine behind NU, recruiting top-notch players as well improving the school's facilities became prime importance.

In Season 76, a lot of people felt that the Bulldogs were ready to ascend to the Mount Olympus of Philippine college basketball. Although the team crashed badly, it did not burn.

"At the start of the year, I told the coaching staff that I wanted to be the number one defensive team in the UAAP," related NU team manager Manny Sy, who is a constant presence during all team functions here and abroad. "Playing soft was unacceptable. We lost eight players so we knew we had to work as a team. And the coaches got the job done."

"I think," noted Hans Sy. "We played better with less pressure on us. We had no real stars to begin with. You tell me, were there any hotly recruited players on this team? None. So maybe it was better this way. They relied on one another."

"Did I think that after losing in the Final Four last year that we will not hit our target? I didn't think about that anymore. When you stumble; you adjust. It sounds simple but it isn't. We had to work really hard."

The Last Stand

When the NU Bulldogs joined the PBA D-League early this year, they took quite a shellacking even with their graduating players still on board. But as the D-League season wore on, the team began to realize, "Hey, we can hang with these semi-pro teams. So let's work harder."

The Bulldogs did and picked up three wins. Towards the end, Ray Parks selflessly deferred now to Troy Rosario and Glenn Khobuntin.

For much of their college career, Khobuntin and Kyle Neypes were glued to the bench. They didn't see much playing time and their confidence waned badly.

"That was because there were other players ahead of them in the rotation," explained Icasiano. During our D-League stint, we told them, 'this is your time to shine.' Both of them responded to the challenge."

In the middle of the fourth period, Neypes was struck in the side of the face by FEU's Reymar Jose. Never one to back down from a challenge, the graduating Bulldog tried to go after Jose but Khobuntin wrapped his arms around his irate teammate.

"Hindi natin 'to kailangan," emphasized Khobuntin as Neypes cooled down. A few seconds later, Neypes drilled a baseline jumper as the NU bench and crowd let out a huge roar.

After a FEU timeout, Neypes trooped to the bench to high fives from his teammates.

"That is how you get even," said Manny Sy, who patted him on the shoulder.

In their final college game, Khobuntin finished with 10 points, six rebounds, two assists, one steal and three turnovers. Neypes added eight points and four boards.

"Maraming nagsasabi na dapat hindi na lang ako dapat umalis ng UST," said Neypes in the midst of the championship celebration. "Lahat naman yan pagsubok. Sipag at tiyaga lang talaga. Ngayon, champion na kami. Masaya rin yung ending di ba?"

He then joined his teammates for more selfies in the middle of the court.

The Good Son

"During our time," said Jeff Napa. "We went from the worst to the worst kung posible man yun. Nag-Final Four din kami pero after that bagsak ulit."

Napa said it all. He played for Sonny Paguia and Manny Dandan. He served as an assistant to Eric Gonzales during the interim period before Eric Altamirano took over. He has since coached the Bullpups to two UAAP Juniors championships. He'll also get a championship ring for working as an assistant in Altamirano's staff.

"Iba nung time na yun nung talunan kami," related Napa. "Hindi ka masasanay sa talo. Magsasawa ka. Ayaw na ayaw mo. Ngayon, maganda na yung may programa. Nakakapagbigay din kami ng pride at accomplishment sa school. Iba rin yun para sa mga estudyante. Hindi na kami basta parang tapakan ng UAAP. Lumalaban din kami."

The former sharpshooter for NU paused and measured his words for effect.

"Alam mo hindi naman kami nakakasiguro kung kelan kami ulit mananalo. Sa lahat ng na-experience namin - yung mga season na walang panalo, yung mga laban na masakit sa dibdib mo - hindi ka pwede mag-take for granted ang lahat ng ito. Magce-celebrate kami ngayon. Tapos bukas, trabaho na ulit."

* Valentin "Tito" Eduque also won as a player for UST and La Salle while coaching the green and white to a pair of NCAA titles in the 1970s. Ronnie Magsanoc won a championship with UP as a player and as head coach of San Beda.

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UAAP Season 77 kicks off at Smart Araneta
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FEU Tamaraws 11 4
DLSU Green Archers 10 5
NU Bulldogs 10 5
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UST Growling Tigers 5 9
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