Photo c/o GMA Network News
Yet, that NCC team was the closest national team I've ever followed. From the time the team was being formed, won the 1981 Jones, Cup, won the 1981 SEAG gold, the 1982 Asian Youth, getting robbed in the 1983 ABC, winning the 1984 Asian Interclub, performing well in the 1985 World Interclub, winning the 1985 Jones Cup, winning the 1985 Reinforced Conference, and finally, the 1986 ABC championship - I was a fan.
Ambassador Cojuangco's single biggest contribution to PHL basketball wasn't his investing on the national team. It wasn't his putting up the PABL as a league that eventually replaced the MICAA. It wasn't bringing in coach Ron Jacobs and Fil-Americans and naturalized players like Ricardo Brown, Willie Pearson, Jeff Moore, Dennis Still and Chip Engelland to the country. All significant, but these were not his best offer to the cause.
Danding with the implementor of his basketball program, Coach Ron Jacobs
It wasn't an easy trek, despite the power that he possessed. He had to contend with another crony, Herminio Disini of the Herdis Group of Companies, who had his APCOR Financiers team dominating the MICAA in 1980 and 1981 and was generally considered as a godfather himself to the sport back then. Ultimately, Disini left the country for Austria after the Dewey Dee case and ECJ had the basketball world all for himself.
He retained his San Miguel basketball team in the PBA but it was apparent that he focused his resources more on the national team. After discarding the initial plan of filling the entire national team roster with naturalized players brought about by the lukewarm reception received by the team after winning the 1981 Jones Cup in splendid fashion, the next direction was to focus on key areas of weaknesses that the country perennially had. In 1982, the Philippine team won the Asian Youth title held at the Araneta Coliseum, demolishing title favorites and defending champion, China, 74-63, in front of more than 25,000 fans, including the then First Lady, Imelda Marcos, in attendance. It was a proud moment for Philippine basketball, and Cojuangco showed us vignettes of the potential of his basketball program.
The 1982 RP Youth team that won the Asian Youth title
Yet, Cojuangco plodded on. He put up the PABL in 1983, giving amateur players a venue to showcase their skills and talents. The greatest amateur basketball players of the 80's can trace back their roots to the PABL. in 1984, the national team won the Asian Interclub held in Ipoh, Malaysia, proving to everyone of the team's capability to win the ABC in Hong Kong had not for the ambush. In a phenomenal display of dominance, the Cement Makers won by a margin of 43.5 points per game, including two 20 point plus demolitions of the Chinese team that bannered the 7'4 Mu Tie Zhu. It was annihilation on payback time.
Coach Ron Jacobs given the traditional victory lift
Danding's NCC team winning the 1985 Reinforced Conference
Danding with the core of the 1986 national basketball team
Danding as DLSU godfather (Photo c/o Tiebreaker Times)
May he rest in peace...