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Catching up with Etok Lobo, former FEU and SMB cager

Renato "Etok" Lobo may have had a journeyman career during his seven-year PBA stint, but the six-foot-two forward from Makati sure had his crowning moments after becoming part of two PBA champion teams.

Ever humble, Lobo admitted that he wouldn't have reached the pro level if not for his college coach Turo Valenzona, first cousin and former Olympian Elias Tolentino and Egay Gomez, who took the time to teach him the fundamentals of the game when he was a teenager.

Humble beginnings

Lobo said he may have played the sport in high school, but formal training never really happened until Valenzona recruited him for Far Eastern University in the UAAP.

"Before I started playing at FEU, I only learned to play basketball by myself until coach Valenzona started teaching me the sport. And I felt I started to really improve a lot when I began to beat the best players from our neighborhood (in Makati)," Lobo said in an interview with An Eternity of Basketball on Saturday.

Footwork, shooting and dribbling were some of the most important aspects of the game he developed during his two-year stint at FEU. Tolentino and Gomez, on the other hand, would often drop by Makati and play one-on-one with him to further hone his craft as a young and budding basketball player.

It was also during this time that he met and eventually developed a strong bond with a gangling forward named Anthony Dasalla, who would become his teammate on the national team and on three PBA teams. Being a low-key guy, Lobo was a loner, but he easily struck up a friendship with Dasalla, a fellow rookie.

"When I arrived at FEU, I didn't have any companions then. So it was just me and Anthony. Our friendship started from scratch. I'd often visit Anthony in his house and we became roommates later on," recalled Lobo.

University of the East captured back-to-back UAAP men's basketball titles during the 1974-75 and 1975-76 seasons. But Lobo and the Tamaraws could not be denied in the 1976-77 season, finishing the year undefeated to snatch the UAAP crown from UE.

With his stock rising following FEU's championship run in the 1977 UAAP season, Lobo saw himself playing in the national youth team and the men's squad in that same year. The sweet-shooting Lobo was a member of the Philippine men's team that placed fifth in the 1977 ABC men's championships in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

That same year, he also played for the Asian Youth team, which defeated China to capture the country's fourth straight championship. Lobo said if not for UE star guard Jimmy Manansala's hot-shooting in the second half, the Philippines wouldn't have beaten China, which enjoyed huge size advantage.

At the same time, he gave credit to Alex ClariƱo, whose physical and rugged style of play somehow intimidated the Chinese, eventually allowing the Filipinos to retain their Asian Youth basketball title in Kuwait.

Lobo's championship streak with the national team in 1977 included a basketball crown in the Pesta Sukan league in Genting Highlands, Malaysia, as well as the Southeast Asian Games men's title in Kuala Lumpur.

The 1977 season also saw Lobo win the MICAA Most Valuable Player trophy after an outstanding performance for Solid Mills. His team though only placed second behind Crown Motors in the MICAA Finals.

But the following season, Solid Mills finally broke through. With Valenzona brilliantly shuffling his men, the Denims went on to beat the Yco Painters in the finals to finally rule MICAA.

Turning pro

With no more worlds to conquer in the amateur ranks, Lobo and Dasalla moved up to the pros after being elevated by U/Tex coach Tommy Manotoc. Solid Mills served as U/Tex's farm team in the MICAA.

Following a fifth-place finish in the 1978 All-Filipino Conference, the Wranglers showed grit and determination in the Open Conference.

With imports Byron "Snake" Jones and NBA veteran Glen McDonald reinforcing U/Tex, Manotoc's charges improved leaps and bounds in the mid-season conference with their 18-5 record en route to barging into the Finals where they faced multi-titled Crispa.

Lobo described McDonald as a quiet import when he came over to replace Hank Williams just four games into the conference.

"He (McDonald) was quiet, likes to wear sunglasses and we used to make fun of him," recalled the 65-year-old Lobo. "But during one of our games against Toyota when we were in Bicol, all of us were caught by surprise when Glen dunked over an opposing import. We actually wondered if he was really that good before that."

Lobo admitted they never really bothered to check McDonald's basketball credentials.

"We didn't know he was an NBA champion," Lobo said, referring to McDonald's impressive bio that saw him win an NBA championship with the legendary Boston Celtics in the 1976 season. "So we were really surprised when he helped us beat Toyota there in Bicol."

The out-of-town win over Toyota was just a prelude to what McDonald could do for U/Tex. Showing his full repertoire in the Finals, McDonald erupted for 40 points in Game 3 to lift U/Tex to a 104-96 victory and help the Wranglers enter the record books as the first PBA team to win a championship outside Toyota and Crispa.

Serving as one of Manotoc's shock troopers during his two-season stint with U/Tex, Lobo managed to average decent stats line of 7.45 points per game and 3.9 boards.

Following the expiration of their two-year contracts with U/Tex, Lobo and Dasalla moved over to new squad Galleon Shippers in the PBA after receiving a better offer in the offseason.

"Anthony and I talked and I asked him how much he was asking from CDCP/Galleon. So whatever he asked, that's what I asked (from management) and they just gave what we asked," explained the Makati-born Lobo.

His stint with the Shippers/Road Builders lasted for just two seasons as the franchise owner decided to discontinue the team's stint in the pro league after the 1981 season.

Lobo and Dasalla found themselves playing for the San Miguel Beer side, reuniting with Manotoc, who had taken over the coaching reins of the Beermen in the 1982 season. Manotoc, whom Lobo described as a "player's coach", drew the best from everyone that season.

"Nearly every player coach Tommy recruited was his favorite. In fact, I remember that every time he would come back from a trip, he'd give me a brand new pair of shoes," Lobo said.

"He likes to solicit ideas from players though in the end, he makes the final decision on what to do. But he's very professional in dealing with us, communicates well and you'll never see him get angry," added the now Chicago-based former PBA forward.

Lobo remembered Manotoc had a way to motivate his players during training.

"When the team was training in La Salle, when he tells us to run for 20 laps, he'll time us all. Now if you go beyond 20 laps, say, 23 laps, you'll get additional P300 from him. As long as you go beyond 20 laps, you'll get a reward from him," shared Lobo.

During the 1982 season, Manotoc tapped a young Norman Black as SMB's import in the Reinforced All-Filipino Conference where the Beermen reached the Finals and bowed to Toyota, 4-3.

But in the Invitational Conference, San Miguel, motivated by the season-opening finals debacle, played with a lot of heart to make a return trip to the championship round. And this time, the Beermen wouldn't be denied, beating the Crispa Redmanizers in the third and deciding game of the title series to capture the Invitational crown.

By the 1983 season, Manotoc already left San Miguel to join Crispa as he took the spot of Virgilio "Baby" Dalupan. Lobo stayed on with San Miguel/Gold Eagle/Magnolia for the next three seasons before a knee injury stalled his PBA career.

Although he tried to make a comeback in 1987 with Tanduay, which was then being mentored by his former FEU coach Turo Valenzona, it wasn't meant to be as he reinjured his knee.

That prompted him to finally call it quits after an eight-year PBA career that saw him win two championships and tons of pro basketball memories.

Lobo played a total of 264 games in the PBA, submitting a career average of 7.7 points per contest. He maintained his friendship with Dasalla when both of them migrated to the United States after playing careers. Dasalla died in 2015 in California due to an illness.