LOOKBACK: Highs and lows of ’80s PH basketball

Ariel Ian Clarito
LOOKBACK: Highs and lows of ’80s PH basketball
Before the PBA big guns took over the Philippine basketball team, a new breed of young stars carried the national colors


MANILA, Philippines – When the Northern Consolidated Cement (NCC) squad disbanded after the 1986 EDSA revolution, the Philippines was left without a national basketball team program that had brought it great success for half a decade. 

The move forced the Philippines to give up its spot in the World Championships that year – a spot it earned after winning the Asian Basketball Confederation (FIBA Asia) in 1985 – leaving the Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) scrambling to form a national team in time for the Asian Games in Seoul on September 1986. 

Eventually, BAP names Joe Lipa of the University of the Philippines as the new national team coach. It was an appointment that was well-deserved as Lipa, mercurial as he was brilliant, was then considered as the country’s best basketball mind outside of the pro league. 

Lipa, though, faced a dilemma. The core of the NCC squad had jumped to the pros to join the Magnolia franchise which, after taking a leave of absence from the PBA at the start of the 1986 season, decided to rejoin the league before the start of the 3rd conference. 

Thus, a tryout was organized to pick the final 12 who would make up the national squad. 

Fortunately for Lipa, Magnolia allowed two of its players to still play in the Asian Games – Samboy Lim and Elmer Reyes. 

Two other former NCC players were also available for the national team – University of the East stars Allan Caidic, who decided to remain an amateur, and Jerry Codiñera, who still had one more playing year left in the UAAP. The 4 would form the nucleus of Lipa’s national team. 

Two players who made the cut were Codiñera’s elder brother Harmon and Jojo Lastimosa of Mama’s Love. From the collegiate ranks, Lipa picked his UP backcourt of Eric Altamirano and Ronnie Magsanoc, Glenn Capacio and Jack Tanuan of FEU, Alvin Patrimonio of Mapua, and Dindo Pumaren of DLSU.


Improbable rally

In their opening match against perennial contender Japan, the RP team won 81-78. Lipa’s one-two punch of Lim and Caidic scored 21 and 20 points, respectively. 

The team then won 2 of its next 3 games, losing only to China, 84-112, before facing the host team. The Philippines needed to win against Korea to give itself a slim chance to still win the gold in the single round-robin tournament. 

Against the Koreans, however, the Philippines faced what looked like an insurmountable 21-point advantage with just 12 minutes left. 

But the Philippines refused to give up, mounting an improbable rally to trim the deficit to a solitary point.

In the closing seconds, the Philippine team regained possession off a Korea turnover and sprinted down the floor to look for the marginal basket. 

Caidic went up for the game-winner 10 feet away from the rim. The ball mercifully rolled in. 

Before the Filipinos could even celebrate, an almost imperceptible sound, drowned by the riotous noise coming from the fans, came out of the referee’s whistle. 

A dubious offensive foul was called against Caidic whose path was obstructed by his defender. Not counted, said the referee who awarded the possession back to Korea. 

The cries of protest from the Philippine contingent were ignored by the game officials, who were not about to risk getting lynched-mob by the home crowd. 

The Philippines lost that game, 102-103. They did win their last two games to give the country its first medal, a bronze, in the Asian Games in 24 years.



The following year, only half of the bronze-medal winning quintet remained with the national team. These were the younger Codiñera, Patrimonio, Magsanoc, Lastimosa, Capacio, and Pumaren. 

A new breed of young stars were selected to complete the lineup. 

Five players from the RP Under-20 team that bagged the silver in the Asian Youth were promoted to the senior squad – Benjie Paras and Joey Guanio of UP, Nelson Asaytono of University of Manila, Paul Alvarez of San Sebastian, and Zaldy Realubit of University of San Jose-Recoletos. Completing the team was Joey Mendoza, who was eventually replaced by Joshua Villapando.  

In the Jones Cup in Taipei, the RP squad went winless in 7 games. This was considered a national embarrassment given that just two years prior, the NCC team won the crown by beating in overtime a US NCAA selection. 

A month after, the RP team redeemed itself by accomplishing its first mission, retaining the SEA Games gold. 

Later that year, the Nationals made the semifinals of the ABC. They swept Jordan, 97-91, and India, 87-79, in the preliminary rounds. 

In the quarterfinals, the Nationals beat Malaysia, 97-94, and Thailand, 98-86, but lost to China, 94-97, in a game that could have gone to overtime.

What was expected to be a barn burner semifinals encounter versus South Korea turned out to be a one-sided affair as the RP team simply had no answers to the legendary Lee Chung Hee.

The Nationals ended 4th in the tournament after losing to Japan in the battle for 3rd, 75-89. 

Alvin Patrimonio, who turned 22 on the week of the ABC Championship, was named to the tournament Mythical Five along with China’s Zhang Bin and Sun Fengwu and Korea’s Lee Chung Hee and a young Hur Jae. 


Needed jolt

The year 1988 was rather slow for the sport as there was no major international competition in the calendar for the national quintet. 

Codiñera, Lastimosa, Patrimonio, Capacio, and Villapando were already in the PBA as part of league newcomer Purefoods, while Magsanoc was with Shell. 

The BAP, nonetheless, still put up a nominal national team that played in the PBA All-Filipino. 

Some of the members of that iteration of the national team were Asaytono, Realubit, Gido Babilonia, Apet Jao, Romeo dela Rosa, Elmer Cabahug, Ric-Ric Marata, and Nani Demegillo. 

The national squad was busier in 1989. However, as was the case the previous 3 years, the core of the national squad in 1988 already turned pro. 

Left to carry the country’s colors were Babilonia and Jao, plus newcomers Jun Reyes, Jun Limpot, Vergel Meneses, John Cardel, Esplana, Vic Pablo, Carlito Mejos, Larry Villanil, Dodong Postanes, and Bonel Balingit. 

The team could do no better than 8th place in the Asian Championships. In the SEA Games held in Kuala Lumpur, the Derick Pumaren-mentored squad had to rely on the heroics of the smallest man in the team, the 5-foot-8 Reyes, to bail them out against Thailand, 97-93. 

In their second game against the hosts, Reyes pumped in 25 big points but it would not be enough as the team lost to Malaysia, 99-10, in what was the virtual gold medal match of the tournament. 

It would only be the second time in the history of the SEA Games that the Philippines failed to win the basketball gold.

That embarrassing result was the jolt needed to wake up BAP and basketball stakeholders in the country. 

In 1990, they finally called in the big guns. Robert Jaworski was named national coach of the first ever national team made up of players from the PBA. – Rappler.com

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