NU’s last taste of hoops glory

Ignacio Dee
NU’s last taste of hoops glory
The basketball gods haven't been good to the Bulldogs, with their last Finals appearance being over 4 decades ago

MANILA, Philippines – During a lull at the golf circuit during the 1980s, Leonardo “Skip” Guinto, an official of the golf association regaled young sportswriters about his basketball coaching years.

“Did you know how I became coach of National University? The Jhocsons (founders of NU) were family friends and they asked me to coach their team in 1954,” said Guinto.

FEU was heavily favored to win the UAAP title with national team guard Bayani Amador and rugged sentinel Tony Relosa forming one of the best backcourt combos of that time.

NU had the court general and dribbling whiz Antonio Villamor who would become a member of the 1956 Olympic team that placed 7th.

The battle for the UAAP title was unexpectedly tight as the Tamaraws tied the game for the last time at 32-all but a 9-4 closing burst for a 41-36 count gave the Bulldogs its only UAAP cage title.

Guinto later became a member of the basketball committee of the Philippine Amateur Athletic Federation and was among the early officials of the then Basketball Association of the Philippines.

Although NU’s sports boss, Leticia “Mommy” Paguia became prominent in baseball and softball, NU never came close to its old cage glory despite producing superb players like Narciso Bernardo and Adriano Papa Jr. until it got a stocky high-scoring forward Reynaldo Sigua.

Sigua, who once scored 41 points in a game against Ateneo in a Manila tournament, led the Bulldogs into the unprecedented final showdown against coach Baby Dalupan’s UE Warriors, then chasing its sixth straight UAAP crown in 1970. On the shoulders of its ace guard, Johnny Revilla, hinged UE’s victory.

“Revilla played all-out in practice, just like he played in games. Sometimes, he would lose his cool and he had to be calmed down,” recalled Filomeno Pumaren Jr., then UE assistant coach, in a phone interview with Rappler.

Despite the presence of Rudy Soriano, who was famous for his undergoal magic, and the superb center Rudolf Kutch, Sigua continued scoring.

“He was not that quick or shifty but he had a good perimeter game,” said Pumaren.

But Revilla was at his calmest as he scored a team-high 27 points and 12 assists despite being tripped twice, a newspaper account said. UE won 106-95. Sigua paced the Bulldogs with 32 points.

After that, NU’s basketball image declined slowly. Soon, sportswriter kept tallies of how many UAAP seasons NU remained winless.

Once in a while, the Bulldogs would beat a strong team but it came few and far between. Players like Danny Ildefonso and deadshot Jeff Napa went through their ranks but as a team, the Bulldogs lacked depth.

Will National University, now boosted by the moolah of the Sy family, finally, finally enter the ranks of college cage powers? It’s all up to Eric Altamirano, whose uncle Rafael played in that last NU team that challenged the UE dynasty in 1970. –

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