The most memorable Philippine national basketball teams

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We all heard the good news last week: the Philippines will host the FIBA Asia Championship for the first time in exactly forty years. It is a thrilling prospect that the Filipinos will get to witness their countrymen vie for a spot in the upcoming FIBA Basketball World Cup in 2014 to be held in Spain; one of the most passionate basketball nations on the planet.

It will only be the third time our country gets to host this prestigious undertaking of determining the best hoops nation in the continent. “The Big Difference” Caloy Loyzaga led the RP squad to the gold medal in a rout of Taiwan in the final game of the 1960 edition and was unanimously voted into the Mythical selection, duplicating the feat he had achieved in the FIBA World Cup in 1954. The Filipinos went unscathed in the tournament. Among the members of that historic squad were Kurt Bachmann (yes, the man alleged to have inspired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's patented “sky-hook”), Narciso Bernardo, Ed Ocampo and Charlie Badion.

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In 1973, the archipelago was again selected to be the venue for Asian basketball supremacy and once again Team Philippines prevailed at the same stadium the games were held thirteen years prior—the Rizal Memorial Coliseum. This time, future PBA MVPs such as Robert Jaworski, William “Bogs” Adornado, Abet Guidaben and Ramon Fernandez held their ground against the opposition to capture the crown without dropping a single game, for the third time. In 1963, the Philippines also took the title in Taipei undefeated. The 1967 squad dropped two matches but still took home the champion's trophy.

In 1978, the Philippines hosted the FIBA World Cup. As host nation, we were automatically advanced to the quarterfinals, but failed to win a single assignment. Yugoslavia beat the Soviet Union in a thrilling overtime encounter at the Araneta Coliseum.

There was also one more time that the RP contingent snared the FIBA Asia crown (then known as the Asian Basketball Confederation or ABC Championships). That was when American mentor Ron Jacobs coached the Northern Consolidated Cement (NCC) team to victory in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia against the mighty South Korean squad. The line-up was beefed up by three naturalized players in Dennis Still, Jeff Moore and Arthur “Chip” Engelland. However, due to the political turmoil in the country following the EDSA Revolution, the Philippines withdrew from the Madrid games and never got to qualify for the worlds since.

This August, coach Chot Reyes will be tasked to form the best team ever. The talent is available. Whether or not there will be cooperation from all basketball fronts remains to be seen, but Manila will be rocking in anticipation of our first home court advantage—six Presidents later.

But what was the most memorable RP quintet? Which collection of the finest basketball players in the land captivated this basketball-crazy nation the most? Some weren't necessarily winners, but they showed what kind of fighting heart the Filipino had.

Are we ready to open another can of worms?

Here are my three favorite selections:

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1986 Asian Games—Seoul, South Korea (Bronze)

4 Alvin Patrimonio

5 Ronaldo Magsanoc

6 Isabelo Lastimosa, Jr.

7 Elmer Reyes

8 Allan Caidic

9 Avelino Lim, Jr.

10 Ferdinand Pumaren

11 Eric Altamirano

12 Glen Capacio

13 Harmon Codiñera

14 Jerry Codiñera

15 Edgardo Tanuan

Coach: Joe Lipa

“Pongalangala!”

I'm sure this is what coach Joe exclaimed when a bum charging call on Caidic denied our entry into the Gold Medal game against China. This, for me, is truly one of the greatest squads ever assembled since the 1982 ABC Youth squad (see next team). None of them stood over 6'6”--Tanuan was the tallest. There could have been other more notable players included in this roster, yet despite the ragtag nature of the line-up—at the time—this team helped usher in the popularity of amateur basketball in the country.

After dropping only one game in the single round robin classification stage (to eventual champion China), the Philippines needed to defeat South Korea to claim second place in the standings and fortify its hope to advance to the final match. The Sokors had two of the deadliest shooters in Asia in Hur Jae and veteran Lee Chong Hee. However, the Filipinos fought fire with fire as Caidic and Magsanoc lit it up from the outside and Patrimonio combined with Lim inside.

In the dying seconds of the game, Caidic leaned into Hur Jae who was moving to close the path to the basket. Caidic lost his balance due to a nudge and released a shot while falling. The referee blew his whistle as Caidic made the shot, and the Philippines was supposed to be in the lead 104-103 with a bonus free throw coming up. But to the horror of the Filipino faithful, the referee called an offensive foul on Caidic. Hur Jae was still standing, Caidic fell and he was called for the charge. That was the most blatant home-court whistle in Philippine international campaign history. Despite protests from the Philippine contingent, Korea was awarded possession and eventually won, 103-102.

“I was the one who gave the pass to Allan (Caidic),” Ronnie Magsanoc, then point guard for the delegation and now an assistant coach for the PBA’s Meralco Bolts recounts. “I was going to pass it to Samboy (Lim) but I gave it Allan because I thought he was going to shoot a three (point shot). But he went for the higher percentage shot and then the call was made. It was sad.”

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The Philippines had to settle for the third best record in the round and went on to defeat Jordan to salvage the bronze medal.

I watched the game live on television. I remember the anguish I felt as a teenager watching that last play unfold—as well as the subsequent instant replays of the alleged charge. Fellow Yahoo! blogger Ronnie Nathanielsz was working the game—solo—for PTV-4 at the time. One of his angry statements I vaguely recall is: “There are six Koreans on the court: the five players and that referee!”

One footnote I learned from one of the coaches of the visiting Yonsei Univeristy selection in 2003 who claimed to be on that Korean squad in 1986 is this: “When we go up against the Philippines (to this day), we always have to know who number eight is and who number nine is. Those players always try to kill Korea!” So the Koreans have developed a fear of #8 (Caidic) and #9 (Lim). Maybe they've outgrown it. Or maybe they haven't...

1982 ABC Youth Championship—Manila, Philippines (Gold)

4 Joseph Uichico

5 Frederick Pumaren

6 Leoncio Tan, Jr.

7 Alfredo Almario

8 Elmer Reyes

9 Reynaldo Cuenco

10 Teodoro Alfarero

11 Tonichi Yturri

12 Louis Brill

13 Leovino Austria

14 Hector Calma

15 Richard Mendoza

Coach: Ron Jacobs

This team not only laid the foundations for the development of a new generation of basketball players, it also made people aware of the rich talent of hoops youngsters in the country.

The most memorable experience watching this squad is not the way they played the game, but how all their innocence was shattered in one fleeting moment—the brawl against South Korea. The Sokors, were parading a powerhouse line-up of future national icons such as Hur Jae and Kim You Tek. After the bench-clearing affair, which only lasted a few seconds, the team went on to let their basketball do the talking—or taunting. The RP Youth Squad prevailed 77-74 before a jampacked and delirious crowd at The Big Dome.

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They went on to square off against reigning Asian champions China in the gold medal match. Despite appearing to be huge underdogs on paper, coach Jacobs reportedly said to one reporter: “Basketball games are not won on paper.” The Araneta Coliseum admitted over 25,000 radical supporters, then the biggest crowd that had ever assembled for a basketball game in Philippine history.

Sweet-shooting Alfie Almario went on a scoring barrage that even star Chinese forward Wang Libin could not stop. Teddy Alfarero showed his defensive prowess despite standing only 6'4” against the Chinese centers that were almost a full head taller. But it was Adamson University’s Hector Calma that stole the show; dishing off well-timed passes and hitting open mid-range jumpers at the most opportune moments. China did not know what hit them. The Ron Jacobs offense was blistering, the defense relentless and the venue suffocating.

In the end, the Philippines clobbered China 74-63 and sent an entire nation into a frenzied euphoria. The heir-apparents to Loyzaga’s generation had arrived. A bunch of teenagers had just united a country. Then First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos even bestowed kisses on the cheeks of Almario and Calma and they became instant celebrities.

It's sad to note that three of the members of that remarkable youth squad have already passed away. Rey Cuenco succumbed to a liver ailment in 1996, Almario died of a heart attack while attending to his fish farm in Iligan, Isabela in 2001 while Alfarero was felled by kidney failure in 2004, dying in poverty.

In 1982, these oblivious kids did what they loved for flag and country and represented their nation extremely well. Jacobs' influence eventually rubbed off on some of these youngsters. Jong Uichico, Derek Pumaren, Leo Austria, Jun Tan and Tonichi Yturri all pursued coaching careers, while Calma became a PBA team manager. Skipper Louie Brill became a league commissioner in the United States, while Richard Mendoza is also involved in the sport overseas. Elmer Reyes had a brief coaching stint in the PBL in the late 1990's but since then has concentrated on his business interests. Of the squad, only Mendoza never suited up in the PBA. Uichico and Brill were excluded from the 1984 NCC squad to allow Still, Moore and Engelland to suit up.

As for Jacobs, he suffered a stroke in 2002 and has been sidelined since.

What a legacy this team created. Maybe one day their feat can be repeated.

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1990 Asian Games—Beijing, China (Silver)

4 Hector Calma

5 Ronaldo Magsanoc

6 Alvin Patrimonio

7 Venancio Paras

8 Allan Caidic

9 Avelino Lim, Jr.

10 Ramon Fernandez

11 Dante Gonzalgo

12 Yves Dignadice

13 Rizaldy Realubit (in lieu of Jerry Codiñera)

14 Joaquin Loyzaga

15 Reynaldo Cuenco

Coach: Robert Jaworski

After FIBA Secretary-General Borislav Stankovic opened the doors to professional basketball players worldwide in 1989, the 1990 Asian Games was one of the first tournaments wherein this new era of “open basketball” was introduced.

The powers-that-be in Philippine basketball at the time wasted no time in looking for the best players—in the PBA. The league all of a sudden had many returning players in the 1989 season and everyone played as if it were a contract-year—to try to impress the newly appointed coach, Añejo playing-coach Robert Jaworski. Once the line-up was created, it quickly became recognized as “the best collection of the finest basketball talent in the history of this proud basketball nation”, or so quipped the late Joe Cantada in one of his PBA broadcasts at the time.

The battle-tested pros wasted no time in letting the region know they meant business, obliterating hapless Pakistan, 129-81 and then Japan, 86-78. In the second round of eliminations, the team beat North Korea, 98-82 despite the presence of their 7'9” pagoda Ri (thanks to the persistent body-up defense of 6’3” Chito Loyzaga). After dropping a lopsided 125-60 decision against the Ma Jian-led Chinese squad, the Philippines won a close 80-75 match against the United Arab Emirates; a result that caught many experts off guard. In spite of that, it was on to the medal round for the Jaworski Boys, and waiting for them is the same Japanese quintet they had beaten in the first round. The winner would face China for the gold medal.

Many observers felt that the Japanese learned a lot from watching the UAE game because the Arabs’ defense held the Philippines to under ninety points.

They failed.

Japan made a late run to make it interesting, but in the end the Philippines triumphed, 94-90 to enter the Gold Medal match for the first time since capturing the crown last in the 1962 Jakarta Asiad. In the final match, the Chinese were given an early scare but eventually fended off the Filipinos 90-74.

The 1990 quintet ushered in a new chapter in Philippine basketball. Since then, the Asian Games and FIBA Asia tournaments were always composed of either teams that were all from the PBA or collegiate players beefed up by PBA pros. In fact, the inclusion of amateur cagers only sought to develop their talents for future international sorties. Prospects like Marlou Aquino, Dennis Espino and Jeffrey Cariaso developed into savvy international campaigners and the original Gilas program also included pros like Jimmy Alapag, Kelly Williams, Ranidel de Ocampo and Asi Taulava in their final line-ups. That paves the way for Manila 2013.

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There are other national teams that were memorable such as the 1998 Centennial Team of Tim Cone, the 1985 NCC squad that last won the FIBA Asia tournament, the 2002 Busan Asiad group that lost yet another heart-breaker to South Korea and even Gilas I and II. Members of the 1981 APCOR team that went on to help the now defunct Crispa Redmanizers claim their second franchise PBA Grand Slam with the help of rookies Padim Israel, Yoyoy Villamin and Bay Cristobal is also worthy of mention as well as the 1987 Youth team that lost at the buzzer to Syria and showed unabashed emotions after losing that heartbreaker. The 1972 RP team sent to Munich was also the last time the country qualified for an Olympiad.

The reminiscing goes on, but it only helps to remind us of the honor these teams either gave to the nation, or went down giving their all for flag and country. The 2013 Philippines Men's basketball team will need us to fuel their drive to attain our sixth Asian title and book that slot to join the world's best in Spain in 2014.

This is our best chance to reclaim lost glory. Let's get this done.

(Follow Noel Zarate on Twitter: @Noel Zarate)

Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.