Legendary basketball coach Aric del Rosario with the author
A tribute to the great Aric del Rosario
Rick Olivares (Philstar.com) - March 26, 2020 - 4:01pm

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine sports, basketball in particular, lost a titan  a champion coach who produced not only memorable titles, but players who themselves have gone to make household names for themselves. 

Januario “Aric” del Rosario, former University of Santo Tomas player and coach where he won a UAAP title as a player and four times as its head coach, the man who steered the Pampanga Dragons to the first ever Metropolitan Basketball Association to its inaugural title, and was a part of the coaching staff of those great Alaska Aces teams of the 1990s, has moved on to that great basketball court in the sky.

Del Rosario died from cardiac arrest on the evening of March 25. He was 80.

When you saw Del Rosario, he didn’t look like your typical coach or even basketball player. He stood 5’6” but in the words of former UST Glowing Goldie teammate Val Rosabal, he was “a tough SOB and you can take that to the bank. He was blood and guts.”

Yep. Like the time when he was coaching his alma mater and he got so incensed at his then prized-center Dennis Espino for loafing around in practice that he called the scrimmage to a halt and challenged his six-foot-six big man to a fistfight. It was meant to push Espino to play harder. But as Del Rosario later confided, had Espino decide to put up his dukes, he would certainly have his butt handed back to him by the younger lad. 

“But he would have known he was in fight,” Del Rosario said in his defense when he recounted that story years later while serving as commissioner for the Filoil Flying V Preseason Cup.

Tenacious. 

That is one word to describe Coach Aric. His teams were not only talented and tough, but they were resilient. When he picked up the pieces of a University of Perpetual Help team that had been broken by NCAA sanctions and the sudden departure of its previous head coach Boris Aldeguer (Jimwell Gican took over as interim coach to finish the season before giving way the next campaign), Del Rosario went to work and turned the team around. With players like Scottie Thompson, Juneric Baloria, Harold Arboleda and Justine Alano, they were plenty tough to beat. 

While the Altas didn’t win a NCAA title, everyone acknowledged Del Rosario’s work. In his first year at the helm, Del Rosario took the underachieving squad to the Final Four. His Altas would finish fourth in his first three years before dropping to sixth in his final season in Las Piñas. After he left, where have they gotten to? It took a while before another coach in the person of Frankie Lim steered them back to respectability.

Even the players who didn’t play for him like Bright Akhuetie and Prince Eze have adopted the traditional Filipino sign of respect of asking for a hand blessing from Del Rosario whenever they see him. 

As it is, he has truly been a hard act to follow. 

During the 1990s when he made a name for himself, Del Rosario guided UST to four straight UAAP titles from 1993-1996. His was such a huge named that his hometown Pampanga Dragons team drafted him to be their head coach. And he repaid their faith by delivering the first ever MBA trophy. 

For all the talent on his squad, everyone recognized his genius for match-ups and ability to inspire that following one game by Pampanga, UST alumni flew him back to Manila in a helicopter just to be able to coach the Glowing Goldies in a title game versus La Salle. That’s how valuable he was a basketball mind.

Even at his age, basketball was his life. During the summer Filoil matches, he would be there from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. soaking in all that basketball as one of its game commissioners alongside another title in scholastic sports in Edmundo “Ato” Badolato. 

You never get tired of this?

“Hindi,” he said in his patented gruff voice. “Buhay ko ‘to. Ito nagpabuhay ng pamilya ko.”

His son, Lester, who also played for UST and has served as his father’s long-standing assistant, confirmed his old man’s mania for hoops. “Kahit nasa bahay basketbol pa rin ang pinapanood.”

And he was fiercely loyal. 

When he completed his four-year stint at Perpetual Help, he was asked by other UAAP schools to coach their side. He didn’t take long to make up his mind — “Hindi ko kaya mag-coach against UST,” he said. “Sa ibang liga pwede ako tulad ng NCAA. Pero sa UAAP laban sa UST? Hindi ko kaya.”

Why not? He gave the Royal and Pontifical University a lot to cheer for, to be proud about. 

One time, when told that he has coached and produced many of the local game’s stars from Espino to Bal David to Cyrus Baguio to Thompson just to name a very few, he downplayed it. 

“Swerte lang,” he deadpanned. “Magaling mga player ko.”

The truth is, his players and Philippine basketball are lucky to have been graced by such a brilliant and tenacious coach such as Aric del Rosario.

He will be greatly missed.

ALTAS ARIC DEL ROSARIO NCAA PERPETUAL TIGERS UAAP UST
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