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Under Don Andres Soriano Sr., later on his son Andres Jr. and grandson Andres III, golf was pushed to the limit in San Miguel Corporation’s sports program because of their vision and sports-oriented lives.
That involvement, under Ambassador Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco continued, adding basketball, horse racing and equestrian, among others, in the program.
Soon after then President Marcos had appointed him as project director for basketball, for instance, basketball became the focus of his attention for reason that the sport, according to him, affected the lives of the Filipinos more being their national pastime.
The readmission of China in the Asian sports aggrupation as the Asian Games Federation and Asian Basketball Confederation (now FIBA-Asia), cost the Philippines the supremacy it had dominated for more than six decades starting from the now-defunct Far Eastern Games, precursor of the now Asiad.
Even the ABC Junior (Youth) the Filipino boys aged 19-under dominated from its inception in 1970 until 1978 had slipped from our grips, prompting Cojuangco to make recapturing the Filipinos’ supremacy as his priority.
When the country hosted the 7th Asian Youth Championship in 1980, it was an occasion in showcasing more than the Filipinos’ knowhow and expertise in staging big-time international competitions.
But, likewise, answer the nagging question whether the Philippines still spawned the best young talents in sport it loved most the region.
Thanks to Cojuangco’s almost singular efforts, the Filipino youth did.
Winnng the title back from the Chinese meant a lot more than restoring the country’s pride in an event it had ruled with an iron hand in the firts five staging in 1970, 1972, 1974, 1977 and 1978.
The task of upholding the country’s stature as breeding ground of Asia’s top cagers rested on 13 boys, who were admittedly less talented and experienced than their predecessors, but were, otherwise, hard-working, determined, disciplined and, most importantly driven by the man who nurtured them from the time of their selection to their training.
They were Derrick Pumaren, Leo Austria, Jun Tan, Luis Brill, Hector Calma, Jong Uichico, Naning Valenciano, Alfie Almario, Rey Cuenco, Teddy Alfarero, John Capada, Richard Mendoza and Elmer Reyes.
Uichico, Pumaren and Austria were, later in their respective basketball career, became three of the finest coaches in both the amateur and professional ranks, while Calma tured out one of the best point guard the Philippines had produced.
Head coach was American Ron Jacobs assisted by Filo Pumaren and Kiko Cailan. Ricafort Mallari was the trainer.
“Wala tayong talo,” legendary Crispa coach Baby Dalupan told this writer of Cojuangco and Jacobs’ team weeks before the tournament started, recalling how the boys gave account of themselves against PBA teams in their tune up games.
Former Boston Celtics mainstay Glen McDonald, who became a resident import of PBA teams, after retiring from the NBA said: “A very, very balanced team. Coach Ron has done a good job. Their outside showing are very good. Their set plays are effective. Most of all, they have patience. That makes them good.”
The boys proved them right. Coach Ron’s charges swept their Group B elimination round games and made it to the championship round unscathed like the Chinese, both submitting identical 7-0 win-loss card each.
The Philippines scored lopsided wins against Hong Kong, 86-52; Qatar, 92-30; South Korea, 81-74; Kuwait, 94-41; and Thailand, 102-57 on their way to the gold medal play.
The Filipinos, likewise, went perfect in the championship round emerging triumphant in all their assignments, including a 94-63 thumbing of the defending champions Chinese.
The First Lady, Madam Imelda Marcos, one of the boys’ inspirations who witnessed the title-encounter in its entirety, led in the awarding of the championship trophy along with a battery of sports celebrities, then Filipino FIBA president Lito Puyat, Cojuangco himself, ABC head Lee Byung Hee, and secretary general Chong Tong-jae.
Cojuangco shed tears of happiness during his post-championship press meeting with local and foreign newsmen.
“It’s mission accomplished,” besaid in between sobs. “Out next target, of course is the ABC men’s crown.
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