Vindication in Malaysia

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - June 25, 2020 - 12:00am

Two years after the Hong Kong nightmare where the Philippines was led into a surreptitious trap to forfeit two wins and lose the chance to play for the title, coach Ron Jacobs was back to lead the national team in a mission of vindication at the next Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) Championships in Malaysia on Dec. 28, 1985-Jan. 5, 1986.

Naturalized players Jeff Moore and Dennis Still were declared ineligible on an innocuous technicality in Hong Kong even as the late FIBA secretary-general Borislav Stankovic backed the Philippine position that in the spirit of the law, they had fulfilled the three-year residency requirement for a foreigner to play for a country. The ABC Board disregarded Stankovic’ interpretation and ruled out the two players when the Basketball Association of the Philippines couldn’t produce the proof to show a three-year prior notification to FIBA for the residency. Their passports, however, indicated they were within the three-year residency requirement.

Jacobs’ team didn’t lose in five games on the court in Hong Kong but could only finish ninth of 15. In Malaysia, Jacobs was determined to get back at the bushwhackers. From the 1983 team in Hong Kong, the holdovers were Hector Calma, Franz Pumaren, Alfie Almario, Tonichi Yturri, Moore and Still. The newcomers were Allan Caidic, Samboy Lim, Yves Dignadice, Elmer Reyes, Jerry Codiñera, Pido Jarencio and Benjie Gutierrez. At the time, FIBA rules allowed two naturalized players for each national team. But some teams were permitted to play more than two foreigners with exemptions for “marginal cases.”

There were 15 teams that participated in Malaysia. Stadium Negara in Kuala Lumpur was the venue for the preliminary round with China, Thailand and Indonesia in Group A and Malaysia, Iran, India and Sri Lanka in Group D. The Philippines, Japan, Jordan and Pakistan were in Group B with the Indara Mulia Stadium in Ipoh as venue. South Korea, Chinese-Taipei, Singapore and Hong Kong made up Group C and played at the Han Chiang Stadium in Penang. Each team played a group-mate once in the first round of eliminations with the top finisher advancing to the final round of four. The team with the best record in the final round took the championship outright. The format had no knockout quarterfinal, semifinal or final matchups.

First game for the Philippines was against Jordan coached by American Robert Taylor. Jordan was led by the Barakat brothers Morad and Hailah. Jacobs’ boys started cold then settled down to crush Jordan, 81-70, with Caidic scoring 20 points. Then, the Philippines thrashed Pakistan, 100-51, as Reyes hit 20, Moore 17, Caidic 14 and Yturri 10. It was three in a row with the Philippines blasting Japan, 87-70, to sweep Group B in a New Year’s Eve contest. Still shot 19 points, Lim 15, Reyes 14, Dignadice 10 and Moore 10. The bad news was Lim hurt his left ankle as he slipped while driving to the basket midway in the second half and limped off the court never to return. Team doctors Tony Rivera and Mac Brillantes couldn’t be sure if Lim would be able to play the next game on Jan. 2.

From Ipoh, the team flew to K. L. for the final round. The Philippines was penciled to face Group D topnotcher Malaysia first but organizers switched the opponent to South Korea with no justifiable reason. The day after the turn of the year, the Philippines drew inspiration from Lim’s return and scuttled the Koreans, 76-72. Lim tallied 17 points, Still 16, Moore 16, Pumaren 12 and Calma 10 while Lee Chung Hee paced the losers with 31. The Philippines trounced Malaysia, 75-65, the next day as Moore fired 23 points, Caidic 22, Lim 13 and Calma 10. That left China as Jacobs’ last hurdle. China previously lost to South Korea, 74-65 and would create a three-way tie for first with a win over the Philippines. Since the quotient system would be used to break ties, China had to beat the Philippines by 15 to clinch the crown. Jacobs made sure there would be no complications as the Philippines dethroned China, 82-72, with Caidic erupting for 22 points and Lim, 16. It was nip-and-tuck in the early going and China led, 38-37 but the Philippines took the half, 48-42, then ballooned the lead to 23, 74-51, with 10:11 left. Despite six Los Angeles Olympians in its roster, China was just no match. Caidic was named tournament MVP and joined Lim in the Mythical Five selection.

San Miguel Corp. chairman Eduardo (Danding) Cojuangco, the team’s godfather, was in the venue to congratulate Jacobs and the squad. The win qualified the Philippines to play at the 1986 FIBA World Cup in Spain but when the EDSA Revolution happened, Cojuangco’s basketball program was dismantled and the country withdrew from joining the competition. The 1985-86 championship was the Philippines’ last in the FIBA Asia Cup and has since not been duplicated.

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