Aric del Rosario: Philippine basketball's underrated overachiever
MANILA, Philippines – There was a joke among sportswriters in the '90s that Aric del Rosario deserved to have a bronze statue in front of the UST Main Building, right beside that of Bishop Miguel Benavidez. And like the eminent founder of the University of Santo Tomas, Aric's right hand should also be raised up. But unlike Benavidez, whose right hand is pointing to the sky, Aric's should have four fingers up.
Of course, the 4 fingers were supposed to mean the 4 straight UAAP men's basketball championships Aric delivered at the doorstep of Asia's oldest existing university. Sparking that streak was the rare 14-0 sweep in 1993. That spotless run to the championship ended UST's 29-year struggle to become a UAAP champion again.
Double elimination round sweeps are extra-special gifts in the UAAP that happen but once in a generation. Since Aric and the then UST squad known as the Golden Tigers etched their chapter in the Philippine basketball history books, a sweep happened again only 26 years later courtesy of the Ateneo Blue Eagles.
That's how rare that achievement was. That's how special a basketball coach Januario "Aric" del Rosario was.
The news of Aric's passing on March 25 triggered a flood of nostalgia among sports scribes of that era. Philippine basketball personages would have wanted to give Del Rosario the fitting tribute he deserved. But given circumstances, that will have to wait.
Probably one of the highest homages bestowed on Aric was from Barangay Ginebra coach Tim Cone, the winningest mentor in the PBA. Cone said Aric's "humility and low-key personality prevented him from being in that conversation of the best coaches of the country – that was wrong. He was incredibly underrated and certainly should have been (there)."
Indeed, for an overachiever, Aric was completely underrated.
Looking back, his humble, low-key demeanor was why Aric was overlooked. In a world where over-the-top is the order of the day, Aric stayed in the shadows. His work ethic, his achievements, and his outdated but personal style of coaching, which more fittingly deserves to be called mentorship, are what placed him above the rest.
Cone picked Del Rosario as one his two assistant coaches for the Philippine team tasked with regaining the country's supremacy in the Asian basketball arena. Chot Reyes was Cone's other lieutenant. The all-PBA squad was christened the Philippine Centennial Team because it was competing in the Bangkok Asian Games in 1998, which was the centenary of the first independent Philippine republic.
I was one of 3 Filipino sports scribes who covered the Centennial Team's one-month US preparation in November 1997. It started with a weeklong basketball camp in the mountains of Eugene, Oregon. The next 3 weeks were a hectic travel by bus, crisscrossing the American heartland to play games against US NCAA basketball teams almost every day. Some of the schools the Filipinos played against were the Iowa Hakwkeyes, Arkansas Razorbacks, UMKC Kangaroos, Clemson Tigers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, University of Missouri Mizzou, and University of Tulsa.
All throughout that training, hovering in the background like a father watching over his sons was Aric.
He was actually quite an enigma. From an unassuming demeanor off the court, he turns into a firebrand when he coaches games. As Aric the incendiary, he has been reprimanded often.
Then when the game is over, it's like someone doused cold water on coals. He's back to the mild-mannered Aric.
Though it was in jest when sportswriters talked about a statue for Aric, there is no doubt in my mind that he deserved more than being a mere footnote in Philippine basketball history, and especially in UST sports annals.
UST has produced luminaries throughout Philippine history – presidents, chief justices, military and police generals, captains of industry. Archives say the university has also produced 11 saints and 6 martyrs of the Roman Catholic Church.
Personally, I think Januario del Rosario belongs in that hallowed roster of Thomasians.
By the way, he may not have an august statue, but tacked on a wall somewhere in the España university campus is a metal marker which immortalizes the achievement of UST's 14-0 basketball squad, led by its iconic coach – Januario del Rosario. – Rappler.com