Battling giants in Spain

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - July 8, 2020 - 12:00am

Believe it or not, the Philippines took on a US team bannered by seven future NBA players at the 1985 FIBA World Clubs Championships in Gerona, Spain and nearly carved out a win. The US squad was called Golden Eagles and coached by the legendary defensive genius Boyd (Tiny) Grant of Fresno State. The seven future NBA players in Grant’s roster were David (The Admiral) Robinson, Steph Curry’s father Dell, Chuck (The Rifleman) Person (now tutoring Kai Sotto in Atlanta), Larry Krystkowiak, Rafael Addison, Dave Feitl and Steve Harris. Rounding up the cast were Doug Altenberger, Carl Golston, Larry Polec, Drexal Allen and future PBA import Keith Morrison.

The Philippines played as San Miguel Corp. with coach Ron Jacobs at the helm. The players were Allan Caidic, Samboy Lim, Hector Calma, Elmer Reyes, Franz Pumaren, Yves Dignadice, Alfie Almario, Jun Tan, Tonichi Yturri, Jeff Moore, Dennis Still and Chip Engelland. The tournament brought in 10 entries – Golden Eagles, San Miguel Corp., Cibona Zagreb of Croatia, F. C. Barcelona of Spain, Banco di Roma Virtus of Italy, Monte Libano of Brazil, Guantanamo of Cuba, Maxaquene of Mozambique, Limoges of France and San Andres of Argentina. Each team was allowed to enlist two imports aside from a limit of two naturalized players. Since Moore and Still were naturalized citizens, Engelland was listed as an import. Jacobs waived the right to recruit a second import. Engelland would’ve gained eligibility as a naturalized player in 1986 after establishing the mandatory three-year residency then imposed by FIBA. San Miguel made it to Gerona after winning the Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC, precursor of FIBA Asia) Interclub crown in Ipoh, Malaysia, the year before for the right to represent Asia in the world competition.

From the start, it was like a mission impossible for San Miguel to even chalk up a win. First in line was Cibona coached by Mirko Novosel. The crack Croatians were Drazen and Alexander Petrovic, Andro Knego and Mihovil Nakic all of whom played at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. As expected, Cibona downed San Miguel, 111-86 but it wasn’t easy. San Miguel was up, 18-11 and trailed by only six at the half but couldn’t sustain the momentum.

Then came the Golden Eagles. San Miguel stood its ground and wound up outrebounding the US, 32-30. In the second half, the Eagles were outscored by four but their 12-point cushion at the turn proved decisive as the US won, 81-73. Person erupted for 24 points. Robinson was only 19 but clearly on the way to a stellar career in the NBA. Who would have imagined that 20 years later, Robinson and Engelland joined forces with the San Antonio Spurs? Curry saw action with Karl Malone on the US champion team at the Jones Cup the previous year and displayed the shooting touch that his son Steph would inherit.

Monte Libano was next in San Miguel’s schedule. The Brazilians were coached by Jose Simoes with the sweet-shooting DeSouza brothers, Maury and Marcel, leading the charge. Simoes brought in import Bob Misevicious who played four straight 20-win seasons at Providence. Other notables were Olympian Israel Andrade and World Juniors veteran Jose Joao (Pipoka) Vianna. The game was close and San Miguel had a chance to score a major upset in the dying seconds but Engelland missed what would’ve been the winning basket from 15 feet with three seconds left. Brazil escaped with a 78-77 win. Coming off a timeout, Jacobs drew up a play to free up Engelland from the foul line. The execution was perfect as Engelland went up unmolested. It was a shot that Engelland would’ve made 9 out of 10.

San Miguel’s last game was against Banco Di Roma. Coach Mario de Sisti leaned on a pair of imports, both NBA veterans Leo Rautins and Leroy Combs. The lineup also boasted of Enrico Gilardi and Marco Solfrini who were on Italy’s silver medal team at the 1980 Olympics. San Miguel, however, wouldn’t be denied a breakthrough win and clobbered Banco Di Roma, 98-79, as Rautins and Combs were held to a combined 17 points. Lim, the celebrated Skywalker, exploded for 30 points to shock the Italians and at the final buzzer, was brought off the court on a stretcher because of fatigue.

The learning experience from Spain carried over to the Jones Cup that year and the Philippines claimed the trophy after repulsing the US, 108-100, in overtime behind Engelland’s 43 points, spiked by eight triples. Caidic and Lim combined for 42 points. The US was coached by Purdue’s Gene Keady and featured five future NBA players Kenny Gattison, Harold Pressley, Joe Wolf, Kevin Henderson and Jim Grandholm.

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