Tinig ng Plaridel, in partnership with InterAKTV, takes you back 25 years ago, the last time the UP Fighting Maroons won the UAAP basketball championship.
When the clock strikes midnight on December 31, it will have been another year of futility for the UP Fighting Maroons. It has been 25 years since the State University won a championship in the UAAP, and with the way things are going, it might take another 25 years before the UP squad wins the big one again.
The year 1986 seems so many lifetimes ago. It was certainly a different era, far removed from today’s commercialized collegiate basketball scene, where the next generation of hoop stars are recruited — some would say coddled — years before they step into a college campus. Back then, the players recruited each other to play for school pride, instead of perks and allowances.
It was a simpler time, but some things never change. The UP Fighting Maroons were contenders for the crown prior to winning the championship, but could not get over the hump, simply because they were a “donut” team missing a center. Enter freshman sensation Benjie Paras. But there was more to the story than meets the eye.
How big a deal was the Fighting Maroons’ championship? The Philippine Daily Inquirer editorial the next morning dealt with the school’s victory. Louie Beltran, then the paper’s editor-in-chief, penned the piece himself. UP has produced Presidents, Chief Justices, Chiefs of Staff, and even Communist and Moro rebel leaders, Beltran wrote, but the school never produced a champion basketball team until the 1986 UP Fighting Maroons. Here is their story in their own words.
I. “Lumakas yung loob namin kasi parang we feel we could now compete with the other teams.”
Joe Lipa (Head Coach): I started coaching UP, if I’m not mistaken, 1981. In my first year, it was a really bad season. Out of the nine games, we won three. But in the second year, I think we played in the championship, that was in 1982, and then in 1983, we also played in the championship. And twice we lost.
Ronnie Magsanoc (4th Year Guard): ’83 ang student number ko nun e. Pumasok kami sa finals nung first year ko.
Eric Altamirano (4th Year Guard): I remember we were up by 10 points, last two minutes against UE, all to lose by one point. Sa sakit, talagang na-remember ko yun. Naghanda na sila [UP president Edgardo] Angara ng pagkain sa Vinzons Hall, puro lechon, lahat walang kumain nun. Walang nakakain sa sobrang sama ng loob.
Magsanoc: We did not do too well in the next two years.
Lipa: There was a newly-organized Open PABL [Philippine Amateur Basketball League], organized by Ambassador Danding Cojuangco, and there were two categories: the commercial level and the collegiate level. To have a tougher competition [before the 1986 season], we participated in the commercial division where we landed fourth. Our sponsor I think during that time was Converse.
Altamirano: At that time, sina Samboy Lim yung mga kalaban namin, sina Jojo Lastimosa, who were already, at that time, named players na. They were almost in the caliber of PBA players. And na-notice ko lang parang we were holding our own, parang, “Wow, nakakasabay tayo sa mga ‘to ah.” We almost beat those teams. So we felt we were prepared coming to the UAAP.
Magsanoc: We always worked hard, believing that somehow we will get that breakthrough opportunity to make it all the way. But I don’t think anybody expected the Maroons to make it to the finals or win the championship, simply because the school has not had any record [of winning] for nearly 50 years.
Lipa: A lot of people, including me, were confident that the UP team would be very, very competitive that year, because for the first time, we had a complete line-up.
Joey Guanio (1st Year Forward): Si Ronnie and Eric were there to lead the team because they were veterans. Joey Mendoza, he was a veteran already. He would keep everything relaxed. It’s a good mix of veterans and rookies that year, the ’86 team.
Lipa: Joey Mendoza was there, he played power forward and center. Joey Guanio, Primo Rodriguez, Choi Mendoza, Duane Salvaterra, Chris Somera, Bobby Noriega, Ramil Cruz – they played a very important role in that ’86 team
Altamirano: We felt confident lang nung year na yun, kasi for the first time, nagkaroon na kami ng legitimate center, si Benjie Paras. Yun yung first year niya, so parang lumakas na yung loob namin kasi parang we feel we could now compete with the other teams. Kasi laging problema ng UP sentro e.
Lipa: We did not recruit [players for the Maroons], they came into UP. Benjie Paras was being pirated heavily during that time by almost all schools.
Altamirano: Actually it was a concerted effort on our part, kami-kami mismo nagtutulungan mag-recruit sa bawat isa eh. I remember, before us, may mga San Beda [high school] players na ring nag-UP, so when we were in high school, sila naman yung nanliligaw sa amin, “O sama-sama tayo dito ha.” So pumunta kami ng UP. So nung time naman namin na nasa UP kami, kami naman yung nanliligaw kay Benjie, “O, Benj, sama-sama tayo dito ha.” So in essence, kami talaga yung nag-recruit sa bawat isa (laughs). Kasi I don’t think the school can do that for us eh, dahil, wala naman… except for academics, diba? Wala namang maibibigay sa amin yung school na, kasi wala namang funds ang school noon.
Guanio: Yung gym na yun, kung ano yung itsura nung 1986, ganon pa rin ang itsura ngayon. Yung basketball ring na isang mababa, isang mataas. Ganon pa rin yun eh.
Benjie Paras (1st Year Center): All of my teammates in UP, the first five, they all graduated from San Beda. Me, Ronnie Magsanoc, Eric Altamirano, Joey Mendoza and Duane Salvaterra. We all came from San Beda.
Magsanoc: You have to remember that recruitment in the new millennium, it’s very different from the recruitment dati, so I don’t think there’s any point of comparison between before and now in terms of recruitment. At naniniwala ako na yung mga players at that time ang pumili, it was their choice to go to that school. Not because of what they were getting, because they were not getting anything compared to now, but because they wanted to go to a good school.
Paras: Actually when I talked to other schools, the ones who talked to me are the coaches. Kaya lang, UP coaches talked to me, [but also] players and alumni. And yun nga, I was convinced that this is the school for me, na I will fit in. Not really the school na hinahanap ko yung magandang offer. Will I be happy in this school, will I fit in, will I excel in this team, yun ang hinahanap ko.
Guanio: When we arrived there, they were very warm. Sobra. Parang, “Tagal na namin kayong hinihintay, mabubuo na tayo.” Parang ganun yung feeling eh. So when we were there, after the first and second practices, immediately, we felt like we are a part of the team. So that was a big factor for us being rookies coming out of high school. That was a big thing for us na to be accepted right away in the team.
Lipa: We met once and I told [Paras] that we have a good all-around education in UP, and second, it will be my personal commitment that I will do everything within my capacity to make him the best center in the land.
Paras: Comparing UP to other schools, UP for me is still number one. I will play, I will benefit from playing, and at the same time I will benefit from studying, from graduating from that school.
Magsanoc: Basketball was a tool that enabled players including myself, to give themselves the chance of finding good education or the best education possible. It just so happens na nabiyayaan kami na may skill kami na maglaro, pero it all boils down to getting the best education possible and being rewarded as a successful student-athlete eventually.
II. “Kapag sinabi ni Coach Joe na one-minute break, takbuhan na kami sa banyo, kanya-kanyang inom yan sa gripo.”
Magsanoc: I needed to wake up at 5 a.m. kasi ang practice namin [sa national team] sa Rizal [Memorial Coliseum] 6 a.m. Pagkatapos ng practice ng 6 to 8, tatakbo ako sa UP, wala naman akong sasakyan, mag-bu-bus ako. Pagdating ko sa UP, maglalaro pa ako sa isang commercial team, so aalis na naman ako sa UP pupunta naman ako sa practice ng commercial team. Tapos aalis naman ako sa commercial team, tatakbo ako para pumasok ako, tapos magpa-practice ako sa UP. Natutulog nga ako sa banyo ng UP e. Halimbawa yung practice 6 p.m., I come in 5:30 p.m., matutulog muna ko ng 30 minutes. Tapos after ng practice sa UP, uuwi na ko kasi kinabukasan kailangan ko gumising nang maaga.
Altamirano: I have three practices in one day. So I practice for the UP team, for my PABL team, and then for the national team, so talagang it was really challenging, but I made sure I never neglected my studies. So, siguro I counted in my fingers yung mga na-drop ko o na-singko ko, meaning konti lang yun, I made sure na I was very conscious of that. Mahirap talaga.
Guanio: Pero ‘pag inisip mo how cooperative the teachers were, the professors were… of course, talagang may mga hindi mo makakausap. Pero there were some na talagang naiinitindihan ka naman. Gaya nung History namin, yung Philippine History, mahilig sa basketball, mababait yung mga professors. Yung Spanish nga kasi minsan bading yung mga professors, so kakalibitin mo lang, lalandi-landiin mo lang. Mga ganun. Pero, you learn to balance eh.
Paras: [Sometimes] I need to talk to the professors to give me special projects. O kaya they will give me one exam and they will multiply it by four, kung ilan yung kailangan. So mababait naman, yung iba very considerate. Yung iba naman hindi, so kailangan mong tiyagain.
Guanio: We had a player, Primo Rodriguez, who is now a professor in UP Los Banos.
Altamirano: Si Primo Rodriguez, siya yung pinaka-smart sa amin. Meron kaming exam sa Economics and I had to ask Coach Joe Lipa kung pwedeng, “Coach, pa-excuse po muna si Primo tsaka ako ah, mag-aaral lang kami, tuturuan lang ako.” Talagang, “Tututuran lang ako, may exam ako sa Economics, I need to pass that.” So in-excuse kami ni Coach Joe, punta kami sa bahay ni Primo, tapos meron siyang study group, siya nagturo. Imagine four books yung in-explain sa akin ni Primo, and totoo naman, pumasa ako dun sa Econ exam because of him.
Guanio: Our practices would range from 6 o’clock to 8:30 p.m. So after 8:30, wala pa nga kaming mga cooler-cooler, kapag sinabi ni Coach Joe na one-minute break, takbuhan na kami sa banyo, kanya-kanyang inom yan sa gripo. Yun lang, yun ang tubig namin. So after nun, wala kaming food. Yung ngayon, yung mga players ngayon, after ng practice may pagkain pa sila, di ba? Pero noon kanya-kanyang uwi. Oh sige, go, ba-bye na. Huddle na tapos, “Bukas ensayo natin, 6 o’clock.”
Magsanoc: Mahirap talaga. It came to a point na maiiyak ka na talaga, pero anak-mahirap ako, yun lang ang kaya ko. It was also basketball that saved me and funded my studies dahil nga naglalaro ako. Pero swerte dahil it prepared us for the life ahead. Siguro kung ‘di ako nahirapan ng ganun, di ko ma-a-appreciate kung ano ang meron ako. So thankful ako. I would never change anything na pinaghirapan namin.
III. “Halos every practice naman nasisigawan ako nun. Lagi akong pinapahiya, hanggang sa kumbaga yung malabas ko yung galit ko during the game.”
Chito De La Vega (Inquirer Sports Reporter): Si Joe Lipa sikat na noon, at noon pa lang, kinukumpara na siya kay Bobby Knight.
Altamirano: Coach Joe was really ahead of his time sa coaching, so, kumbaga, yung ginagawa namin, pag sa tingin ng ibang tao, “Ano ba ‘to, weird naman ‘tong mga ginagawa nitong mga players na ‘to, yung team na ‘to.” But at that time, it was something new, so si Coach Joe was able to bring that sa Philippine basketball. So he introduced that early, and eventually, the other teams copied him already, and you know, was able to do what he was doing. Yun lang ang advantage namin, we were coached by a very intelligent coach.
Guanio: Si Coach Joe talagang disciplinarian. Tapos talagang mahirap magpa-ensayo. Hard-nosed, kasi ang laki ng ilong nun eh.
Paras: He is a good coach. He will be mean to you, kaya lang yung pagiging mean niya is for you to improve. Ako naman, alam niya yung potential ko, kaya he made effort to maximize the talent that I got, na mailabas ko. Patatapangin ka niya. Kasi let’s face it, basketball is a physical sport. Hindi pwede yung mabait ka rin dun. So kailangan, you need to be tough. May mga co-players na walang gagawin kundi asarin ka, saktan ka, and you need to be ready. It’s not all the time na you will receive ganung klaseng paninira. May time na kailangan mong bumawi.
Guanio: Si Benjie, Bondying ang tawag dyan [ni Coach Joe]. Eh nung time kasi nun, parang ang laki-laki pero bo-bondying-bondying.
Paras: Halos every practice naman nasisigawan ako nun. Lagi akong pinapahiya, hanggang sa kumbaga yung malabas ko yung galit ko during the game.
Magsanoc: [Coach Joe] was a mentor and a teacher to all of us. And he opened the doors to a lot of realities in life for all of us, and we are indebted to him eternally dahil he catered to all of us to be given the privilege sa paglalaro and at the same time find our mark sa UP.
IV. “Parang talo na kami, talo na kami.”
Magsanoc: Ang malalakas nun ang UE, Adamson, FEU. Yung tatlong yun ang laging teams to beat.
Paras: Mga first few games namin, we won, so yun na yung nagpataas ng morale nung team.
Guanio: Minsan may mga supporters na magpapakain. ‘Pag wala, uwian na. Ganun lang, walang gimik, walang mga recovery sessions, walang mga spa. “Uwi na kayo!” Bahala na kayo. Kita-kita na lang bukas sa ensayo.
Paras: During the game against UE, we lost, nung first round. Tapos during the second round naman we lost against UST, so parang nagkaroon kami ng a little doubt ‘cause pag na-straight ng UE, they will win the championship. Kaya lang they lost against FEU, so yun nagkaroon kami ng chance ‘cause we need to play a knockout game against FEU.
Guanio: We had so many obstacles that year because Eric and Ronnie were included in the Philippine team lineup for the Asian Games. So when they were there, iniwan kami dito. Coach Joe had to go with them also because he was the coach of the national team. So what happened was some of the UAAP games, Adamson, NU yata, we had to play without Ronnie, without Eric, who were our number one and two point guards at that time. To add to that, wala pa si Coach Joe.
Lipa: I didn’t consider it an obstacle, but I think a blessing in disguise was when our players left for the Asian Games, last minute, to Seoul, Korea. And we missed three games. And when we came back, number one was UE, and we were tied with FEU at second place. And we had to play a knock-out match against FEU to have a privilege to play against UE in the championship.
Guanio: We had to go through a bakbakan with FEU… [we thought] FEU won the game already. So they were freezing the ball, iniikot na lang yung bola para maubos yung time.
Lipa: With eight seconds to go, FEU had possession of the ball and we were behind one point.
Altamirano: Parang talo na kami, talo na kami.
Guanio: For some reason, nag-crosscourt pass yung isang player nila.
Paras: Si Ramil Cruz yung nakaagaw nung bola. And he’s not a point guard, forward siya, so awkward pag-dribble niya.
Altamirano: And then he went all the way for the basket, for us to win the game. So yun yung parang, wow, talagang sigawan, everybody was, parang, if we had lost the game, that was it for us. So nobody remembers that, but we do.
Lipa: That steal is one of the best things that happened to the UP team. It was almost forgotten, but Ramil was a real hero during that time.
In Part 2: How the UP Fighting Maroons brought down Jerry Codiñera and the vaunted UE Red Warriors.
This article was first posted in InterAKTV.ph.