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JB Yango, former Tanduay star, recalls PBA title runs with superstar teammates

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'We call him Gagamba' (1:43)

PBA veteran JB Yango reveals the opponents he had the most difficulty scoring against and defending against, including one the nicknamed "Gagamba."   (1:43)

Former PBA forward Jose Bernardo "JB" Yango's professional basketball career wasn't particularly lengthy, lasting just seven seasons and coming to an end at the close of the 1988 season due to a knee injury that never completely healed.

But Yango can say his seven-season PBA career was chockfull of memories, filled with three championships and the opportunity to play alongside two four-time Most Valuable Player winners in Ramon Fernandez and, however briefly, Alvin Patrimonio.

Yango's time in the pros may not have been as long compared to Fernandez and Patrimonio, who went on to play 20 and 17 seasons, respectively, in the PBA.

However, the Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija native made the most of his time in the PBA, contributing heavily during the 1986 season to help Tanduay end its long title drought by ruling the first two conferences and coming close to capturing a Grand Slam.

Title run with Tanduay

While Fernandez and the high-scoring import duo of Rob Williams and Andre McKoy shone brightest during the 1986 Reinforced Conference, Yango played a strong supporting role during Tanduay's torrid run en route to the franchise's very first PBA championship.

Yango admitted enjoying their title chase that season, citing the many things he learned playing with Fernandez and Freddie Hubalde, a former Crispa star, whom the team acquired in the 1985 season.

"Pribilehiyo talaga na makasama ko ang mga yan kasi magagaling sila kagaya ni Mon Fernandez, Freddie Hubalde saka Willie Generalao," Yango told An Eternity of Basketball on Tuesday.

Yango, who is celebrating his 62nd birthday on August 20, liked Fernandez because of his high basketball IQ.

"Kagaya ni Mon, nagde-decoy iyan kapag nado-double yan. Sasabihin niya na mag-cut ka lang at papasahan kita. May trust kasi siya sa team," he noted.

It helped that the Rhum Makers had imports Williams and McKoy, who despite competing for shots, managed to play true to form at the end of the day.

"Nung time na yun gusto niya (McKoy) makipag-compete kay Rob Williams. Parang sinasabi niya na 'Hindi, mas magaling ako diyan (Williams).' And nung time nun, si Rob din (sinasabi niya) na 'Mas magaling ako diyan (over McKoy)' kaya di nagpapasahan yang dalawa," recalled Yango, who helped San Beda win back-to-back NCAA crowns in the late 1970s. "Pero parehas silang magaling."

Knowing the star power Tanduay had, Yango was happy to play a supporting role, going for loose balls and scoring whenever the need arose.

As a 6-3 power forward, Yango readily banged bodies with bigger defenders and relied on his smooth footwork to score inside.

"Ganun ang role namin nung araw eh. Bale ang nakakatulong lang sa opensa nun si Mon Fernandez at Freddie, pero kami nila Willie at Padim (Israel), role players na lang kasi sobrang galing din nung dalawa," Yango recounted.

The road to Tanduay's first championship in the PBA though wasn't easy, especially during Game 3 of the Finals against Great Taste when Williams threw tantrums after coach Turo Valenzona subbed him out.

"Naalala ko yun kasi si Rob Williams may tendency na solohin yung laro. Sosolohin niya talaga na kahit puwede siya magpasa pero isu-shoot niya," Yango said, referring to that instance when Williams tried to take matters into his own hands even as Tanduay fell to a 17-point, third-quarter deficit.

"Sabi siguro ni coach Turo, medyo may tanrums siya so ipakita natin na kaya din nating manalo. Eh siya (Williams) din biglang nag-sorry kay coach Turo. Kasi may attitude problem din si Rob Williams," he said.

McKoy had a 38-point splurge, while Hubalde delivered the killer blows in the endgame to help Tanduay complete a 117-110 come-from-behind win.

The Rhum Makers eventually won the series over the Coffee Makers, 4-2.

Business rivals

The 1986 All-Filipino conference marked the first time Fernandez faced Robert "Sonny" Jaworski in a PBA Finals since the two former Toyota teammates decided to part ways after the 1984 season because of a feud.

And while the media hyped the Finals collision between Fernandez and Jaworski, Yango said management had one simple instruction to the team.

"Hindi naman napag-usapan yun (winning over Jaworski). Basta ang sabi lang sa amin eh business rivalry. Na kailangan manalo ang rhum (over gin)," Yango recounted.

Tanduay rode on its dominant first conference title run by winning nine of its 12 games in the eliminations and semifinals en route to booking a spot in the best-of-five title series opposite Jaworski's Ginebra squad.

Although Ginebra surprised Tanduay with a 90-86 Game 1 victory, Yango came out with a monster effort in Game 2 after scoring 40 points. Fernandez, who hurt his hamstring before the start of the title series, played the role of a decoy, deferring to Yango, who moved well without the ball to help Tanduay eke out a 118-115 overtime triumph.

Tanduay took Games 3 and 4 from there as the Rhum Makers ruled the All-FIlipino conference, with Yango being named Finals MVP.

"Yung game plan ni coach Turo dahil wala na nga si Mon, parang ang aming opensa namin eh motion, cut lang ng cut. So kung sino ang libre eh papasahan," explained Yango, who shot over 60 percent from the field and close to 89 percent from the foul line in the 1986 season.

But Yango said other than just outscoring Ginebra, defense played a big part in their title run in the All-Filipino.

"Nahirapan lang kami kasi wala si Mon, pero nung naglaro siya, nag-decoy na lang siya. Pero ang nagdala din sa team namin eh si Freddie Hubalde saka yung depensa ni Padim kay Terry Saldaña," he added.

No Grand Slam

The dream of completing a rare PBA hat trick didn't materialize though when Tanduay got off to a faulty 0-4 start in the 1986 Open Conference.

Tanduay's original import combo of Williams and Benny Anders didn't live up to the hype, forcing Valenzona to bring in Andy Thompson, brother of NBA veteran Mychal.

The Rhum Makers managed to book a quarterfinal seat after a poor start, but they eventually faltered upon reaching the semis, thus kissing their Grand Slam bid goodbye.

Yango said other than their import combination problems, other PBA squads like Ginebra and Manila Beer paraded super reinforcements as well that made the competition even more difficult.

"Oo, magagaling din talaga ang mga imports nun," he said.

Ginebra's strong import tandem of two-time PBA Best Import Billy Ray Bates and Michael Hackett led the Gins to their franchise's first-ever crown after beating Manila Beer, led by Michael Young and Harold Keeling, in the Open Conference Finals, 4-1.

Last hurrah

Tanduay won what would turn out to be its third and last PBA title after ruling the 1987 Open Conference behind former Boston Celtics forward David Thirdkill.

Nicknamed the "Sheriff from Bradley", Thirdkill quickly stamped his class in the import-spiced conference with his trademark defense and super offense.

"Si David Thirdkill magaling. Ang style niya kaliwa't kanan yan eh. Kapag strong side siya kinakaliwa niya yan saka magaling siya mag-motivate ng kakampi," Yango recalled.

But he did mention that unlike Williams, Thirdkill, who won an NBA title with Boston in 1986, was a humble import.

"Hindi yan kagaya nila Williams na minsan kakampi niya yung ring. Si David walang kayabangan yan. Iyung paa nun nakatuntong sa lupa at mabait," he added.

Tanduay went on to reach the finals and dominate the favored Great Taste Coffeemakers, 4-1, en route to the Open Conference crown.

The next two conferences of the 1987 season though didn't yield any championships, and Tanduay's franchise was sold to Purefoods, owned by businessman Don Jaime Zobel de Ayala.

Diminished role

Purefoods boasted of a solid roster upon acquiring the Tanduay core that included Fernandez, Onchie Dela Cruz, Israel, Hubalde, Generelao and Yango.

Purefoods' young stalwarts during the 1988 season included Jerry Codiñera, Jojo Lastimosa, Glenn Capacio and the late Jack Tanuan, while Totoy Marquez and Al Solis were thrown into the mix after being acquired from Shell.

Yango said the young Purefoods franchise had the talent to compete against the PBA's heavyweights with their mixture of talent.

In fact, the entry of Patrimonio in the second conference only strengthened Purefoods further, with Yango describing the former Mapua star as a "complete package."

"Si Alvin ang nakita ko, yung upper body niya malakas. Bubuhatin ka talaga niyan. Saka nakita ko yung dedication niya sa practice. Parang si Jolas yan, nagpapaiwan sa gym," Yango said in noting Patrimonio's work ethic during their one year together as teammates at Purefoods.

The 1988 season though saw Yango play a diminished role, especially when Patrimonio came into the picture and grabbed the lion's share of playing time at the power forward spot.

But Yango explained that Patrimonio's rise was just right considering his right knee had been pestering him for a long time.

"Actually nung time na pumasok si Alvin, nawalan na ako ng playing time. Saka medyo may tama na din ang tuhod ko, nahirapan na rin ako," he said.

Yango said despite getting an offer to play for Shell shortly upon the expiration of his contract with Purefoods, he chose to retire before the start of the 1989 season.

"Siguro kung gumanda lang ang (lagay ng) tuhod ko, eh yun lang ang regret ko kasi sandali lang ako sa PBA, seven years lang. Hindi ko na maximize yung playing years ko," shared Yango.

Post-PBA life

Yango's seven-year PBA career saw him play 273 games, averaging 9.5 points and 5.3 rebounds.

"Unang una nalungkot ako siyempre kasi basketball ang passion ko. Pangalawa, yan ang bread and butter ko and siyempre may mga alalahanin ka rin pero may tama na tuhod ko," shared Yango, who joined the PBA as a rookie in 1982.

He went back to his province upon retirement and joined politics, serving as a councilor in Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija.

In between serving his constituents, Yango said he also tended to his family's land, part of an inheritance from his late father.

Eventually, he served as a provincial board member and later, joined the Nueva Ecija Patriots as part of Joe Lipa's coaching staff in the Metropolitan Basketball Association.

"Napakabait naman ng Diyos kasi from basketball, napunta ako sa pulitkika. Siya din naman ang may way at di ka Niya pababayaan," he said. "Natutunan ko tanggapin ang sitwayson kahit mabigat sa dibdib mo. Dasal na lang at nakaraos din naman."

Today, Yango walks with a limp brought about by a tear on his right patella. "Kapag naglalakad ako, tapos kapag malamig, masakit," explained Yango.

He admitted the late Tanduay team owner Don Manolo Elizalde offered to send him to Spain during his playing years to have his knee operated on.

"Ang pagkakamali ko nung in-oferan ako ni Don Manolo na magpa-surgery sa Spain eh hindi ko tinanggap kasi trainer lang kasama ko, si Jimmy Sanchez. Eh gusto ko sana si misis ang isama ko. Eh syempre magre-rehab ka, masyadong matagal. Kaya dito na lang ako sa Makati Medical kay Dr. Tony Rivera," he said.

Regardless, Yango retired with an impressive résumé, winning titles in the NCAA, MICAA and PBA, along with a gold medal in the 1981 Southeast Asian Games.