MANILA, Philippines – Following the Sy family’s takeover of a majority stake of National University back in 2008, many figured the fortunes of the school’s sports programs that compete in the UAAP would improve.
True enough it did. With help from the arrival of two-time UAAP men’s basketball MVP Bobby Ray Parks, the school’s basketball team – better known as the NU Bulldogs – made consecutive appearances in the basketball tournament’s Final Four round from 2012-2013, which helped catch most of the public’s attention, and made another appearance in 2014 even after Parks left the club.
National University’s performance in other sports eventually upgraded as well, notably in tennis, badminton, women’s volleyball, and the Cheerdance Competiton, where the NU Pep Squad are currently two-time defending champions.
On Wednesday, October 1, NU accomplished another feat by making it to the UAAP men’s basketball tourney finals for the first time in 44 years, and the first time since the UAAP came up with the Final Four format for the basketball tournament 20 years ago.
The Bulldogs did so by defeating the no. 1 seed Ateneo Blue Eagles, who had a twice-to-beat advantage, as a no. 4 seed. The second of two victories they needed was a thrilling 65-63 win at the Smart Araneta Coliseum on Wednesday which had almost everything a basketball fanatic could ask for out of an exciting postseason match: clutch shots, superb individual performances, great team play, rampant crowds, high stakes, and a fourth quarter that went down to the wire.
After the game a member of the Sy family talked about how enthralling the victory was, especially that it came four days after his birthday, and because it took place a little over a year after the Bulldogs suffered one their most heart-crushing defeats in the UAAP men’s basketball competition.
“I reminded them last year it was also in my birthday we lost to UST,” said Hans Sy, son of Henry Sy, the chairman of SM Prime Holdings, Inc. who was named by Forbes Magazine as the Richest Man in the Philippines in 2011.
Hans was referring to NU’s disappointing loss to the UST Growling Tigers as the no. 1 seed in the Final Four round in 2013, in which the Bulldogs became the first squad ever in UAAP history to get eliminated after having a twice-to-beat advantage over the no. 4 seed.
A season later National U turned the tables and became only the second team to reach the same accomplishment as the 2013 Growling Tigers, and they did so under the tutelage of Head Coach Eric Altamirano.
“He was able to really build the team spirit, and everybody knows, like today when we won, everybody won together,” Sy complimented Altamirano, who was placed under the eye of public scrutiny after NU was upset by UST last year.
“It was very much in the program,” Sy said about the success of National University. “Of course we (him and Coach Altamirano) met up to some obstacles and things like that, but very much in there.”
“If we lose, we lose all together. So that was a very clear message.”
The messaged seemed to resonate on the entire Bulldogs team, who defeated Ateneo thanks to quality team play, late clutch heroics from starting point guard Gelo Alolino, and admirable defense by starting center Alfred Aroga, whose block on Blue Eagles superstar and UAAP men’s basketball MVP Kiefer Ravena avoided overtime and sent Ateneo to elimination.
“I just told them to just remain focused,” Sy recalled his halftime speech to NU, who at that time was ahead by five, 42-37. “Don’t even think about the bad calls, just focus on the game, and do what they do best.”
“As I told them also, don’t get intimidated because there’s really a lot of intimidations going on, and I think they really delivered.”
It took a few years, but one of Sy’s goals for the Bulldogs was achieved after Aroga’s block sent Ravena’s shot and Ateneo’s dreams of making it back to the finals into thin air.
“I will not say envisioned, but we really worked hard to make it happen also,” he said about the Bulldogs’ success before mentioning later on that: “We really (wanted) to uplift the school spirit.”
In the finals, NU will take on the FEU Tamaraws – a squad they have yet to defeat in Season 77 and are led by two quality players in Mike Tolomia and Mac Belo – the latter of which scored 23 points and hit the series-winning 3-pointer that propelled FEU past defending champion DLSU Green Archers in the other Final Four series.
Game 1 of the finals starts on Saturday, October 4, at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“[It’s] the best birthday gift yet,” Sy said about NU’s triumph over Ateneo.
“Why ‘yet’? Because we still have the finals to come.”
Interaksyon.com reports that a meeting has been scheduled between Sy and Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner Chito Salud about the possibility of the two forging a possible partnership in the PBA.
When asked about the topic, Sy politely refused to go into the detail.
“Hindi muna ako co-comment diyan,” he laughed. (I won’t comment about it yet.)
“Wala pa (nothing yet). I (cannot) comment yet. It’s very attractive, but I (cannot) comment yet on that.”
“Interested naman, pero it depends rin eh (I’m interested, but it also depends),” he said about his intentions. “It takes up a lot of time and effort into these things eh. This UAAP lang, we put a lot of time into it.”
“Like kanina (earlier), I (had) to miss a board meeting just for this game,” he said about attending NU vs. Ateneo on Wednesday. “Sometimes, I just get myself torn away from work.”
Sy instead was willing to talk about other topics, particularly the improvement of not only sports programs in National University, but as well as the quality of education.
“Next is the education itself,” he said about his family’s plans for the school. “You watch National U in terms of education, we will be producing some good top-notchers,” he promised.
Hans Sy also talked about how his family will continue providing in the field of sports, though not just for the university they’re backing.
“The family also is really going to support sports in the Philippines.”
“We’ll put up an arena in Cebu – things like that.”
“So we will definitely push sports to its new high.”
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