MANILA, Philippines – Ren-Ren Ritualo is a name associated with winning at De La Salle University, where his college jersey hangs retired on the ninth floor of the Enrique Razon Sports Complex, the training ground of the Green Archers.
Ritualo’s UAAP resume includes a Rookie of the Year award, 5 finals appearances, 4 UAAP championships, a Finals MVP, and numerous crucial baskets.
He was the mainstay of Franz Pumaren’s La Salle dynasty which won consecutive titles from 1998-2001, and a workhorse who came to practice one hour ahead of schedule and stayed another hour after to hone his shooting skills, which were feared by rivals like FEU, UST, and Ateneo.
Ritualo’s teams won championships against each of those adversaries, including a pair of triumphs against FEU, which beat DLSU in the finals of Ren-Ren’s freshman season.
But he admits the Growling Tigers gave him the most difficulty.
“They could jump high, they were very long, and they could shoot, [too,]” Ritualo told Rappler.
He later admitted, “Napapanaginipan ko sila Cyrus (Baguio) nun, sila (Niño) Gelig.”
(I used to have nightmares about Cyrus and Gelig.)
According to Ritualo, Pumaren’s system was designed in particular to take down FEU, La Salle’s biggest roadblock before their four-peat.
UST, however, orchestrated a defensive game plan to use multiple defenders on Ritualo, which prevented him from finding a rhythm on offense.
“We had a tough time against that squad – Nino Gelig, Cyrus Baguio, Marvin Ortiguerra, Gilbert Lao also was there, (Gelo) Velasco, (Derrick) Hubalde. It was really tough. Sobrang deep ng bench nila (They had a very deep bench).”
UST, of course, was also coached by the late Aric del Rosario, who passed away in March 2020.
Out of the Green Archers’ 4 titles, the Growling Tigers provided the biggest challenge in 1999. UST won a close Game 1 by two, lost by 7 in Game 2, then was moments away from sealing the series in the clincher before Dino Aldeguer made the shot of his life.
He also fouled out in overtime, but critical baskets by Don Allado and Ritualo put DLSU on top in the extra period, where the Archers closed the deal.
“The most memorable game for me,” Ritualo called it.
“Hindi ako yung tumira ng (I didn’t take the) clutch shot. I passed the ball, I was double-teamed in the corner, I passed it to Don, who was wide open… then Don passed it to Dino. You’re not going to expect Don Allado to shoot a 3, right?” he asked
“So pinasa niya kay Dino. Dino [fortunately] made the shot. ‘Yun yung pinakamemorable para sa akin: yung pinasa ko yung bola.”
(He passed it to Dino. Dino made the shot. That was the most memorable thing for me: that I passed the ball.)
Ritualo says he was usually ready to make the right play in the big game because La Salle’s practices under Pumaren were even more intense than actual UAAP competition.
“Mas nag preprepare pa ako sa practice kaysa sa game. Usually I go out before a game – parang I watch a movie to relax – pero pag may practice, I sleep early,” said the former King Archer.
(I prepare more for practice than before a game. Usually, I go out before a game – like I watch a movie to relax – but if there’s practice, I sleep early.)
A promise kept
The thought of retiring Ritualo’s jersey was first presented by Pumaren before the Final Four in 2001.
Although La Salle topped the league standings at 12-2, Ritualo’s play tailed off compared to the season prior due to a nagging ankle injury and exhaustion from 5 straight years playing college basketball, not to mention stops with Tanduay at the now-defunct Philippine Basketball League (PBL).
He still averaged a team-high 19 points a game in the elims, where La Salle only lost to NU and UE, but as he put it, he played bad because he ‘didn’t have [his] legs anymore.”
So as a motivational tool, Pumaren put a reward on the line.
“’Ren, I’m going to retire your jersey after this season pag nanalo tayo sa (if we win the) championship,’” were Franz’s words, according to his then team captain.
La Salle dominated NU, 111-85, in the Final Four, then faced an up-and-coming Ateneo team led by Enrico Villanueva, Larry Fonacier, Wesley Gonzales, and LA Tenorio in the finals.
The veteran Archers won Game 1 by 6 but lost to Ateneo by 4 in the second matchup. Ritualo went scoreless in the first half of Game 3 but scored 12 quick points to open the second half.
Still, the Blue Eagles led by 5 with less than 6 minutes to go, threatening to derail its rival’s goal at history.
Led by the heroics of the unheralded Willie Wilson and Carlo Sharma (who faced suspension concerns), DLSU took momentum of the game and then sealed another ring thanks to free throws by Mike Cortez and Ritualo.
“Sa akin, anong effect ‘nun?” was Ritualo’s first thought about his jersey being retired.
“Yun pala yung effect niya. So I’m happy,” he would say years later.
(I thought, how would that affect me? Turns out, that’s the effect.)
Ritualo was one of Pumaren’s immediate hires as an assistant when the head coach made his return to the UAAP with Adamson in 2016.
As of April 2020, Ritualo says he is no longer with the Soaring Falcons after both sides mutually decided to part ways.
This past January, La Salle hired Franz’s older brother, Derrick, to be the Archers’ new head coach following two straight seasons missing the Final Four.
Derrick actually coached DLSU nearly 3 decades ago, leading them to titles in the early ‘90s.
When asked if Ritualo would like to return to DLSU as an assistant coach if hired by Manong Derrick, the former Archer displayed his green shirt with the words “La Salle” on it, indicating yes.
The father of two, who likes “sharing his passion,” has also worked with the likes of Jeron Teng and Jerrick Ahanmisi in recent years, helping them hone their shooting skills.
Many memorable Green Archers have played in the UAAP, which made it difficult for Ritualo to name an all-time La Salle 5.
“Wow. That’s going to be tough,” he admitted. “S’yempre, si (Of course) sir Lim Eng Beng will be No. 1 there. Of course, me also. Wow. My center is going to be Don (Allado), for sure.”
Over Ben Mbala? Ritualo sticks to his choice.
“Oo naman (Yes, of course). Don Allado. He can’t be stopped, man… Pag nakita niyo siya to operate inside, it’s tough (If you see how he operates inside, it’s tough).”
Deciding between a point guard came to down to two choices, but his head question, of course, was never in doubt.
“I won 4 championships with that guy! 4 straight!”
“Point guard, Dino Aldeguer or Mike Cortez? Paano yan (How’s that)? I’m going to go for Mike. Sorry, Dino!”
“Last spot, I’ll go for Mac Mac.”
The journey of Mac-Mac Cardona in the Philippines has been well-chronicled. His story started in 2000, when he arrived to serve residency before playing in the UAAP.
His rookie year was Ritualo’s final season. Mac-Mac was second to his veteran in leading La Salle’s scoring. One of Ren-Ren’s tasks then was to pave the way for the recruit who would one day take over his spot.
“He was like my brother in college,” said Ritualo. The two still talk.
“I really guided him on and off the court. Kaya siguro pagod na pagod ako nung last year ko (Maybe that’s why I was so tired in my last year),” he laughed jokingly, “because of him, because I was guiding him with all the plays and the system of coach Franz.”
Ritualo also remembered shouting at Cardona instead of his opponents because it took a while for the recruit from Carson, California to get adjusted to what the team was trying to do. But off the court, Ren-Ren looked at Mac-Mac as the bro he never had.
“Every break time ko, I called him, ‘Hey Mac, saan ka? Kain tayo.’ Madalas makikita mo kami sa canteen (Where are you? Let’s eat. You’d often see us at the canteen).”
The two recently spoke following the death of their NBA idol, Kobe Bryant.
“Nalulungkot siya, tapos (He was sad then) he remembered his first game in the UAAP – I gave him shoes [to wear]. He was wearing my shoes. It was Kobes also.
“Deep inside he’s a nice person and very kind lalo na sa mga kaibigan niya (especially to his friends).”
He’s still looking out for his brother. – Rappler.com