It’s Turo calling

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - May 4, 2021 - 12:00am

I got a welcome phonecall from coach Turo Valenzona the other day and we talked about old times, in particular his basketball journey from his YCO playing days to his coaching career in the collegiate and pro ranks. Turo is now 78 and the former Manila Councilor proudly said his nine children, including four in the US, were brought up right to become successful. He’s married to his third wife after his first two wives passed away. Turo pointed out that each of his three wives delivered three children “not at the same time.”

Turo’s youngest Mark, 24, is an Aviation Ordnanceman with the US Navy in Virginia. A son Raymond is head coach of the Letran juniors and Imus Bandera in the MPBL. A daughter Joan is employed as HR Operations Manager at Universal Robina. In 2017, Turo underwent a procedure where doctors amputated his left leg from the knee down due to a diabetic condition. He was fitted with a prosthetic leg and today, is able to do a little running for exercise. Until the pandemic struck, Turo was actively teaching kids how to play basketball in Sta. Ana for free, something he enjoyed doing to give back to the community.

Under house arrest to stay safe from COVID infection, Turo said he often calls up his buddies from way back to keep in touch. “Yung mga YCO teammates tinatawagan ko,” he said. “Sina Orly Castelo, Ed Roque, Felix Flores, Nonong Belmonte at Freddie Webb. Si Ed 84 na, si Flores, dating Mayor ng Oton, Iloilo. Si Nonong, retired PAL pilot. Nagsama-sama kaming mga YCO players noong nag house-blessing si Freddie sa Cavite. Kung minsan, kasama namin si Vida Reyes, asawa ni Sonny na namatay na rin. Yung latest na nawala ay si Jun Celis. Miss ko rin si Elias Tolentino. Si Rene Canent nasa US.”

A former teammate whom Valenzona said he hopes to contact is Miguel Bilbao. After a car accident in 1985, Bilbao relocated to the US with his wife and son. Someone said Bilbao has returned to Manila with his family. “Kami ni Mike ang mga maliliit sa team kaya palagi kaming magkasama,” said Turo. “Natandaan ko, nanood kami ni Mike ng PBA game sa ULTRA pagkatapos ng kaniyang aksidente at ako ang sumama sa kaniya sa CR sa halftime kasi di siya makalakad ng sarili. Ako ang nagbukas ng zipper niya at ako rin ang humawak ng kaniyang ari para umihi.” Turo will surely recount that experience when he gets to talk to Bilbao.

A feisty and brainy defensive guard, Valenzona made a name for himself in the pre-PBA era. And when the PBA started in 1975, Valenzona made the jump with U-Tex, joining Danny Florencio, Egay Gomez, Rudy Kutch, Larry Mumar, Ricky Pineda and Billy Abarrientos under coach Caloy Loyzaga. Valenzona played 31 games for the Weavers over two seasons then moved to coaching full-time. As head coach, he won eight UAAP, six NCAA and three PBA championships. Valenzona also coached the Philippine Youth team in 1978 and 1980. In the PBA, he called the shots for Gilbey’s Gin, Tanduay and Hills Brothers. Robert Jaworski, Francis Arnaiz, Ramon Fernandez and NBA veterans Larry McNeill, Rob Williams and David Thirdkill were among the stars whom Valenzona coached in the PBA.

Valenzona grew up in Leveriza like gymnast Caloy Yulo and used to hang around Rizal Memorial, picking up balls at the tennis courts and trying his luck in baseball, swimming and track and field as a kid. Then, he fell in love with basketball and although only 5-9, made up for his lack of ceiling with his jumping ability, shooting accuracy and hard-nosed defense. Valenzona played varsity hoops at FEU and made it to the Philippine team in 1964 for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Yokohama.

Valenzona’s journey is rich with inspiring stories as he defied the odds to emerge as a Filipino basketball legend.

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