The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) has invited the Gilas Pilipinas cadet team to play in the upcoming Philippine Cup that will usher in Season 46 this April 2021. The gesture is a welcome development as it not only puts the young cadets in the spotlight that will make them household names, but it will also spur their progress and development as a team as they build up for the 2021 FIBA-Asia Cup and ultimately, the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) President Al Panlilio has lauded this move and thanked the PBA for extending its assistance to the national cause. While there is no confirmation yet from the SBP if the team will participate, there are positive signs that they will.
Not counting the 1998 Centennial and the 2002 Selecta national all-pro teams that participated in the 1998 Centennial Cup and the 2002 Governors' and Commissioner's Cups, respectively, there have been 10 PBA conferences when an all-amateur national team participated as a guest team. Recent interviews of former national players on the podcast An Eternity of Basketball revealed that their PBA stint played a pivotal role in speeding up the cohesion and development process.
In this two-part series, we'll look back at how these national teams performed in the PBA. This first part covers the four PBA conferences participated in by the RP-NCC teams of Ron Jacobs. The second part will cover the national teams of Joe Lipa and Rajko Toroman, as well as the one-conference stint of Derick Pumaren's national team in 1988.
RP Northern Cement (3rd place, 1984 1st All Filipino Conference)
Roster: Jeff Moore, Chip Engelland, Hector Calma, Franz Pumaren, Jong Uichico, Elmer Reyes, Yves Dignadice, Rey Cuenco, Alfie Almario, Naning Valenciano, Peter Aguilar, Jun Tan, Tonichi Yturri.
Coach: Ron Jacobs
After an unceremonious debacle in the 1983 ABC in Hong Kong where the Philippines ended up ninth overall brought about by a controversial technicality that forfeited the team's first two games in the preliminary round, NCC forged an agreement with the PBA to serve as guest team for the first time in the 10th season of the league. With the disbandment of Toyota at the end of the 1983 season and the number of teams down to seven, the arrangement became mutually beneficial.
At the end of the eliminations, the Nationals surprised everyone by topping the field with an 11-3 card, one game ahead of Crispa and Great Taste, the latter welcoming Toyota stars, Arnie Tuadles and Chito Loyzaga in its fold. Crispa then defeated GTC in the playoff for the automatic second semis seat, 124-120. The two teams that benefited most from Toyota's disbandment, Beer Hausen and Gilbey's Gin, ended up with 8-6 slates, apparently still adjusting to the new environment. Gold Eagle, led by their franchise player Abe King, closed the elims with a 4-10 record to join the Coffeemakers, the Brewmasters and the Gin Tonics in the single-round robin quarterfinals. Tanduay and Countryfair were eliminated.
Gilbey's and Beer Hausen joined NCC and Crispa in the semis as both teams won two of their three games. Great Taste, considered one of the favorites to win the title, shockingly lost to Gold Eagle, 103-97 that virtually spelled their doom. They also lost to Gilbey's in overtime, 151-145, before ending their campaign with a 142-126 victory against previously unbeaten Beer Hausen. Gold Eagle filed a protest after their 106-104 loss to the Gin Tonics, and the league ordered a re-play to determine the second semifinalist. Gilbey's eliminated the Beermen, 115-106.
Fresh from a grand slam conquest the previous season, the Redmanizers turned up the juice, winning four straight games after an initial loss to Beer Hausen, 109-108, at the start of the semis. After conquering NCC, 96-94, for their fourth victory and a seat in the Finals, Coach Tommy Manotoc resigned because of health reasons. Many-time national team member and assistant coach Narciso Bernardo took over. NCC, on the other hand, lost their first two games against Gilbey's and Crispa before pulling even with victories over Beer Hausen, 115-109, and Gilbey's, 135-124. The nationals lost steam in the end, losing a heartbreaking game to Crispa and against Beer Hausen, 119-107, leading to their elimination as they finished the semis with a 2-4 card. In their shortened series battle for 3rd place, NCC toppled Beer Hausen in five games, 3-2.
NCC's first stint in the PBA was only the third time since 1980 that a guest team played in the PBA. The Nicholas Stoodley-backed South Korean national team played in the Invitationals and finished third overall. They were also aiming to replicate another Nicholas Stoodley-backed foreign team made up of American professionals (led by former 1979 Royal Tru Orange import Larry Pounds) to win a PBA title as a guest team - a feat the Jeansmakers accomplished in the 1980 Invitationals against the Toyota Tamaraws. While they may have failed to accomplish this goal, there were obviously more gains, none more important than the mainstream acceptance of the team to the discriminate Filipino basketball fans. Their ability to go toe-to-toe against the top pro teams earned them more fans and considerable respect.
RP Northern Cement (4th place, 1984 2nd All Filipino Conference)
Roster: Jeff Moore, Chip Engelland, Hector Calma, Franz Pumaren, Yves Dignadice, Jong Uichico, Jun Tan, Elmer Reyes, Alfie Almario, Peter Aguilar, Rey Cuenco, Naning Valenciano, Tonichi Yturri.
Coach: Ron Jacobs
The PBA was forced to have a second All Filipino conference in one season because of the economic crisis besetting the country. With the value of the dollar rising significantly against the peso, the PBA teams decided not to hire imports to manage costs.
There were eight teams bracketed into two groups, with NCC, Crispa, Gold Eagle and Tanduay comprising Group A, and Great Taste, Gilbey's, Beer Hausen and Countryfair rounding up Group B. Teams in the same group would play each other once while facing the remaining four teams in the other bracket twice, for a total of eleven games. At the end of the eliminations, Great Taste and Northern earned automatic semifinals seats, ending up with 9-2 and 8-3 cards, respectively. Crispa beat Gold Eagle, 2-0, Gilbey's came from behind to defeat Tanduay, 2-1, while Beer Hausen swept Countryfair, 2-0, to join GTC and NCC in the semis.
GTC topped the double round semifinals with a 6-2 slate, losing only to Beer Hausen, 105-89, and Tanduay, 136-131. The Brewmasters, led by eventual MVP Ramon Fernandez, and NCC tied for second with 5-3 cards each, while splitting their semis games, 123-98 in favor of NCC in the first round and a 118-107 revenge from Beer Hausen in the second round. In their knockout game for the second finals seat, the Brewmasters won the game, 122-117, amidst controversy over allegations of one-sided officiating favoring Beer Hausen. Coach Jacobs was vocal about his disgust as he felt that the league didn't want an all-amateur team to succeed in the PBA.
In protest, Jacobs hardly played Moore and Engelland in their best-of-five series for third place against Tanduay, losing 135-121 and 127-95. Game 2 even saw rookie reserve, Dennis Abbatuan scatter a career-high 51 points, mostly from at the post and underneath, as NCC's defense seemed half-hearted. Deputy Commissioner Tommy Manotoc summoned Jacobs to his office and admonished him for shortchanging the fans. In Game 3, NCC vented its ire on a hapless Tanduay team with a 148-110 demolition led by Engelland's 60 points. With Great Taste already sweeping Beer Hausen in the Finals, Tanduay copped third place by virtue of a 2-1 series win.
The nationals were at the cusp of making it to the Finals for a battle royale with the Coffeemakers. They had an excellent chance of achieving this feat, but because of the relative youth and inexperience of the local talents, they succumbed to the pressure, losing back to back games in the second round against GTC and Beer Hausen. Yet, it was a major accomplishment as the finalists were led by the best players of the country in Brown and Fernandez.
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RP Northern Cement - 1985 Open Conference (3rd place)
Roster: Dennis Still, Jeff Moore, Chip Engelland, Hector Calma, Samboy Lim, Allan Caidic, Yves Dignadice, Elmer Reyes, Franz Pumaren, Tonichi Yturri, Benjie Gutierrez, Jun Tan.
Coach: Ron Jacobs
The NCC RP team had a full slate for 1985 given that the SEA Games and the ABC would be held in December. In support of the national cause, the PBA adjusted the sequencing in its calendar, with the All Filipino sandwiching the two import-laced conferences. With NCC going overseas in Gerona for the World Interclub and Taipei for the Jones Cup in June and July, the league accommodated the national team for the Open and Reinforced Conferences. Similarly, Still was finally inserted into the lineup alongside Engelland and Moore but with the provision that only two naturalized players were allowed to play at the same time.
The Open featured reinforcements with unlimited height, with returning imports like 6'11 Lewis Brown (who replaced Doug Harris), the 6'5 Norman Black, and 6'9 Rich Adams (replacing Kevin Graham), while newcomers were 6'9" John Campbell of Ginebra (replacing Harold Driver), 6'7" David Pope of Tanduay (who replaced Merlin Wilson), and Great Taste's 6'9" Joe Binion (replacing Napoleon Johnson).
Great Taste and Tanduay topped the elims with 8-4 cards. NCC, Magnolia, Manila Beer, and Shell duked it out in the quarterfinals for the last two semis slots, while Ginebra dropped out of the race with a 3-9 record. The Ice Cream Makers won two games in the single round robin quarterfinals to gain the third semis slot. The Brewmasters were particularly impressive as they swept their three games by an average of 15.6 points to tie NCC for second. In their knockout playoff game, NCC extracted vengeance with a convincing 98-75 victory to knock out the Lucio Tan franchise.
NCC started well, beating Great Taste, 100-97 in their first semis game. The Coffeemakers, though, went on a roll, led by eventual MVP Ricardo Brown, and won five in a row to earn the first Finals seat. While the national team dominated Tanduay in their two games, they couldn't get past their tormentor, Magnolia, losing both games, 97-95 and 94-84. In their conference head-to-head duel, the Ice Cream Makers won four of their five games. In the last game of the semifinals, NCC had to beat GTC to forge a three-way tie for first at 4-2, but suffered an overtime loss, 102-94, to end up in the battle for third, where they demolished the Rhum Makers, 4-2 in a best-of-seven series.
Nineteen eighty-five may yet be the best year of the NCC national team in terms of accomplishment and performance. Apart from achieving their final objective of winning the ABC title, the PBA crown was a major accomplishment as well, given the daunting odds. When the PBA agreed to have Still play for NCC, it showcased the league's willingness to take risks - the odds of seeing an all-amateur team win a PBA title were high with the 6'8" Jolly Green Giant beefing up the Northerners. While the Open Conference may have yielded only a third-place finish, the invaluable lessons of playing against the pro teams beefed up by a tall import made the nationals more than ready to face challenges in the coming months.
RP Northern Cement - 1985 Reinforced Conference (1st place)
Roster: Dennis Still, Jeff Moore, Allan Caidic, Hector Calma, Samboy Lim, Elmer Reyes, Yves Dignadice, Pido Jarencio, Franz Pumaren, Jerry Codiñera, Tonichi Yturri, Alfie Almario.
Coach: Ron Jacobs
This was the most successful national team to ever play in the PBA. And, they did this in dominant fashion, making them only the second guest team (after Nicholas Stoodley in the 1980 Invitationals) to win a PBA title. After a successful conquest of the 1985 Jones Cup in Taipei where they beat the US Golden Eagles team in overtime, 108-100, as well as a valuable experience in the 1985 World Interclub in Gerona, Spain, the PBA was NCC's last preparation for the ABC tournament to be held in Kuala Lumpur starting December 26, 1985.
With Chip Engelland still ineligible to play in the ABC because of residency requirements, Coach Ron Jacobs opted to sit the sweet-shooting naturalized player and fielded his final 12-man lineup for the tourney. They went up against teams reinforced by one import no taller than 6'6" - the likes included Michael Hackett, Ronnie Valentine, Francois Wise, Norman Black, Lester Rowe, and Corey Blackwell.
Manila Beer and Ginebra topped the eliminations to earn the first two seats in the semifinals. Magnolia, NCC, Great Taste, and Tanduay figured in the quarterfinals for the last two slots, with Shell being the only team to be eliminated. NCC and Great Taste won two of their three games, while Tanduay and Magnolia only won once, catapulting the Coffeemakers and the national team to the semis. In the double round-robin Final Four, Manila Beer came out on top with four wins to earn the first Finals seat, with NCC taking the long route by beating Great Taste in a playoff, 123-107.
NCC went unbeaten after losing to Manila Beer in the second round of the semifinals, 99-93, racking up five wins in a row, including a sweep of the Brewmasters, 4-0, in their best of seven Finals series, winning by an average margin of 25.5 points in what is regarded as the most lopsided series in league finals history. While Moore and Still dominated in both scoring and rebounding, it was the more superior local support of NCC that carried them to victory. Calma scored 26 points in Game 2 to back up Moore's 28, while Caidic tallied 25 to backstop Still's 31 markers in Game 3.
That win streak, coupled with an immaculate slate in both the 1985 Southeast Asian Games in Bangkok and the 1985 ABC proved how dominant and merciless Jacobs made this team. At that time, they were already regarded as the country's best basketball team, even better than any PBA franchise.
The marked improvement of NCC as compared to their previous PBA performances may also be a testament to their international stints prior to the conference. They played in Spain, Taiwan, and Malaysia (Asian Interclub) where they were able to go up against future stars like David Robinson, Chuck Person, Harold Pressley, Kenny Gattison, Joe Wolf, Jay Bilas, Tommy Amaker, Marcel de Souza, and Drazen Petrovic, among many others. But, more importantly, it was the team chemistry that led to the Reinforced title as Jacobs parlayed the roles of each player to the hilt, maximized their individual strengths while working within a disciplined system, and introduced one coaching innovation after another. The 1985 PBA Reinforced stint may have only validated how good everyone, including themselves, knew they were.