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Eric Altamirano celebrated UP's historic 1986 title by playing another game

Eric Altamirano has won in all levels of basketball dating back to his days as a San Beda Red Cub in the NCAA Juniors.

Still, the 1986 UAAP Men's Basketball championship he helped UP win remains one of the highest points in his storied career. In particular, October 25, 1986 is a day he would never ever forget.

That day, Altamirano scored 27 points to lead the Fighting Maroons to their first - and thus far, only - title. He, however, would not be able to celebrate the history they made just yet.

"After the championship game in the UAAP, I think our game in the PABL was at 5 p.m.," recalled the now-54-year-old in An Eternity of Basketball, referring to the defunct Philippine Amateur Basketball League. "I (had to immediately go) to the venue."

Even though State U had just won it all inside the Ultra (now Philsports Arena) in Pasig, Altamirano had to delay celebrating with his fellow Fighting Maroons. Honoring his commitment with the Yco Shine Masters, he bucked traffic and arrived at Manila's Rizal Memorial Coliseum just in time for their game against Purefoods in the 1986 PABL Filipino Cup.

"I almost played the whole game in the UAAP, almost 40 minutes, but the adrenaline was there so I didn't feel fatigued because I was jubilant after winning the championship with UP," he shared. "When I got (to Rizal), the game was about to start and coach Egay Gomez told me to check in the game so I went to play. Imagine, that game went to overtime."

After going all-out in UP's title-clinching Game 2 victory versus UE, Altamirano still had the energy to help Yco force overtime and eke out a well-earned win.

"For some reason, that was my day because I made the three-point shot to tie the game and send it to overtime. Then in overtime, I took over, made some crucial shots and then we won," he narrated. "I told myself that was really my day."

That means that in one afternoon, Eric Altamirano top-scored for UP in the Finals, won the UAAP championship, was named Finals MVP, traveled from Pasig to Manila, hit a three to force overtime, dominated the extra period, and triumphed in another game.

Of course, by then, he was no longer a stranger to winning as he was also key to the ESQ Merchants' championship in the 1985 PABL Invitationals. His resolve had also weathered much worse storms than having to play back-to-back big games.

Altamirano was part of a brand-new Philippine national team that had raised quite a few eyebrows as it was composed of up-and-coming players.

Back then, head coach Joe Lipa gathered Altamirano, Alvin Patrimonio, Jojo Lastimosa, Dindo Pumaren, Ronnie Magsanoc, Harmon Codiñera, Jack Tanuan, and Glenn Capacio to backstop Allan Caidic, Samboy Lim, Elmer Reyes, and Jerry Codiñera and wear the flag in the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul, South Korea.

"That was a very controversial team because coach Joe decided to bring us in. Me, Ronnie, and Dindo, just imagine, us replacing Hector Calma and Franz Pumaren who we know were seasoned players already," refreshed Altamirano.

Still, the new-look Philippine team opened the regional tournament by downing powerhouse Japan, 81-78, and then followed that up with a 109-75 romp over Hong Kong.

While defending champion China then trampled the Filipinos, 112-84, Altamirano and company still reached the semifinals where a faceoff with the host Koreans awaited.

"That game against Korea was really a missed opportunity for us," detailed Altamirano with a tone of regret, even after 35 years. "We felt we were robbed of the win because of a bad call. We were thinking, 'How can you win against the Koreans in Korea?'"

In that game, the Philippines trailed by double digits, but pulled within one, 102-103, in the dying seconds before Caidic was called for a critical offensive foul.

"We were so frustrated with that call because that was already a sure basket by Allan," shared Altamirano, talking about one of the national team's lethal gunners who, during his own guesting in the webcast, insisted the referee had made a "bum call."

Not long after, the Filipinos were relegated to the bronze medal game which they won over Jordan, 83-81, in a nail-biter.

That heartbreak, though, would lead to a more determined Altamirano, as well as Magsanoc and coach Lipa, for UP in the UAAP. And they needed steelier resolve if they were to upset favored UE.

"UE was really invincible because they were stacked and most of their players were playing in the PABL. Remember, Jerry was a (national team) player so UE just breezed through the eliminations. We were badly beaten by UE so going to the UAAP Finals, nobody expected us to win," recounted Altamirano.

With the benefit of a week-long respite before the start of the Finals, however, Lipa fortunately found the recipe for success: UP had to do anything and everything to neutralize Codiñera, who dominated in the Red Warriors' 13-1 run through the elims. As the no. 1 seed, UE had a twice-to-beat advantage over UP, which had to beat FEU in a knockout game for the second Finals berth.

"Looking back at every good thing we did in the Asian Games, the experience coach Joe had there, somehow he was able to pick it up and apply as we played UE in the Finals," described Altamirano. "We changed our offense and then on defense, we were running some type of zone and man-to-man. At that time, teams couldn't solve that type of system."

The result? A shocking 86-75 triumph in Game 1 that forced a winner-take-all Game 2.

In Game 2, both squads were engaged in a nip-and-tuck first half. Then at halftime, Lipa, in an effort to fire up his wards, emphatically let his voice be heard by one of the game officials.

"Coach Joe shouted at one of the referees while we were heading into the dugout. He was somehow playing mind games with the referees," shared Altamirano. "But the moment he went inside the dugout, the first words he said was, 'Atin na 'tong second half'. Those words fired us up."

"Coach Joe's confidence rubbed off on us and true enough, we dominated the second half and we won," he added.

Apparently, Paul Desiderio was far from original when he immortalized "Atin 'To!" for UP. Revved up by Lipa's halftime pep talk, the Fighting Maroons elevated their game in the second half en route to a convincing 98-89 victory to deny UE's three-peat bid.

Altamirano eventually turned pro played for Alaska, Pepsi, and Shell in the PBA from 1989 to 1994 and normed 4.3 points in 131 games.

Shortly after his PBA retirement, he shifted to coaching and took the reins for his alma mater in 1996. The year after, he succeeded Chot Reyes and steered Purefoods to the All-Filipino title.

Altamirano won another PBA championship the following season when he moved over to Mobiline (now TNT) in the 1998 Centennial Cup. Then in 2014, he achieved his greatest coaching feat by steering longtime cellar-dweller National University to the UAAP mountaintop, ending 60 years of championship futility for the Bulldogs.