Nonoy Chuatico, warrior

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - January 4, 2021 - 12:00am

I first met Emilio “Nonoy” Chuatico Jr. in college. We tried out for the Ateneo Blue Eagles at the same time, and made the team. The coaches then, brothers Ogie and Chito Narvasa, worked us with passing drills and talked teamwork relentlessly. Nonoy was a perfect teammate, and kept practices bearable with his down-to-earth humor. Sadly, after three weeks, my own basketball dream ended, as I made the intensely personal decision to search for my biological father in that pre-internet era. For Nonoy, however, basketball was just beginning, and all-consuming. He played as if games were mealtime: in the morning, and in the afternoon right before actual team practice. He had the greatest work ethic I had ever seen.

It all paid off in 1987, the 50th UAAP season. In a tied final championship game against the University of the East, Chuatico was fouled intentionally in the waning seconds and sank a free throw to give the Blue Eagles the lead. On the next play, Jun Reyes was likewise fouled and did the same, giving Ateneo its first UAAP men’s championship, the front end of a back-to-back.

Four years later, the six-foot shooting guard was called upon to play on the national team for the 1991 Southeast Asian Games in the country. Two years earlier, the Philippines was cheated so completely, and was thus itching for payback. On a powerhouse team that included Johnny Abarrientos, Marlou Aquino, Vic Pablo, Jun Limpot, Vergel Meneses and Bong Ravena, head coach Francis Rodriguez trusted Nonoy with leadership. Converted to point guard, he was a match-up problem for smaller opposing guards. He always made the right play, and played with the same energy regardless of what time in the game it was. I still contend that, to this day, the triumphant gold medal home game against Thailand was the loudest crowd  I have ever heard at the Araneta Coliseum. I still have photos from the medal ceremony after that memorable broadcast.

The following year, Nonoy was picked eighth overall by Ginebra San Miguel in the PBA Rookie Draft, behind Meneses and many of their SEA Games teammates. He infused the same energy into the Gin Kings, Purefoods Hotdogs and wherever else he played. After four seasons, he left the PBA, and in 1998 added experience to the young Manila Metrostars of the fledgling Metropolitan Basketball Association. Upon retiring, he turned to golf, and joined the business of his older brother Paul, who was Ateneo team captain in Nonoy’s rookie year.

In 2009, Chuatico was inducted into the Ateneo Sports Hall of Fame, joining such an assortment of Olympians like Ambrosio Padilla and luminaries like Fritz Gaston, Danny Francisco and many others. He was already fighting diabetes, then cancer, battling with the same determined spirit I knew. He kept himself in such great shape, it embarrassed the rest of us. Despite his worsening condition, he was always of good cheer, and always looked out for friends and family ahead of himself.

I once confessed to Nonoy that my basketball dreams lived on in him, and he was an inspiration to me. Now that he has passed on, we will make sure that he is remembered.

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