Paing’s impregnable defense

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - January 20, 2021 - 12:00am

What stood out in Rafael (Paing) Hechanova’s storied basketball career was his stifling defense. In the book “Legends and Heroes of Philippine Basketball,” authors Christian Bocobo and Beth Celis wrote that Hechanova’s unforgiving defense was his trademark. In 1951, Hechanova led UST to the UAAP, Inter-Collegiate and National Open titles and was on the Philippine team that took the gold medal at the Asian Games in New Delhi. For his achievements that year, Hechanova was named Mr. Basketball in a unanimous vote by the Philippine Sportswriters Association. He went on to play for the country at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics and brought home another gold medal from the 1954 Asian Games. At the commercial level, Hechanova was a fixture with the YCO Painters and joined the team on an exhibition tour of Spain in 1955. He was inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000.

Former Rep. and Gov. Raul Daza said he marveled at the way Hechanova played defense. “I went to UP high school and UP college of law,” he said. “I was also with the UP marching band. UP’s best player during my time in the late ‘40s to early ‘50s was Jess Bito, a one-man army who later became a lawyer. Every Sunday, the UAAP games were played at Rizal Memorial and I remember watching UST with Mon Manulat. I still have a mental picture of Manulat with his light brown hair wearing a crew-cut. I remember Paing, too. Paing played guard. Wala pang point guard at that time, just simply guard. Nobody came close to duplicating how he blocked shots. Malinis, the way he jumped, his timing, his ability to make supalpal. He struck me as a player with dignity. His moves were calculated. He wasn’t very tall but he could defend anyone on the court. I’ve never met him but I know Paing and Tony Genato are two players of their era still with us.”

Hechanova is now 92 and this Saturday, he’s attending the virtual General Assembly and elections of the Philippine Olympians Association (POA) of which he’s the founding and incumbent chairman. There are nine slots in the POA Board with Hechanova assured of retaining his position. The 10 nominees for the eight remaining seats are incumbent president Akiko Thomson, incumbent treasurer Stephen Fernandez, incumbent secretary-general Ral Rosario, incumbent Board members Monsour del Rosario, Roel Velasco, Freddie Webb, Jenny Guerrero and Jet Dionisio and Rey Fortaleza and Weena Lim.

Hechanova’s daughter Raissa said her dad is “very OK.” “He attends Rotary via zoom and has weekly zooms with his golf buddies,” she said.  “He still does dialysis thrice a week (since October 2017). Every Sunday, we four siblings (Renna, Raissa, Rafael, Jr., Rianna) and one or two of his five grandchildren get together with him and during the week, one of us girls would eat with him. Dad knows how to entertain himself, he reads a lot of books (I order regularly the new best-sellers from Amazon), he watches Netflix, including K-dramas and enjoys concerts on YouTube. He avidly watches the news, listens to music and travels vicariously through Rick Steves on YouTube. He still makes major decisions about the family’s real estate company and hands over the sweldo of each household staff at payday.” Sadly, Hechanova’s wife Mely passed away on Dec. 14, 2019 at 86, just days before her birthday. Thomson described Hechanova as “amazing.”

It was in 2002 when Hechanova, an architect by profession, established the POA. “We want to spread throughout the country the importance of the Olympics and the Olympic ideals,” he said. “We’re encouraging our youth to go into sports so they will not turn to drugs or be glued to their gadgets. We need to care for ourselves physically and there’s no better time to begin this culture and value than when kids are young.” He also organized the POA to assist Olympians in securing health insurance and to coordinate with the World Olympians Association to provide for their welfare through education.

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