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Tiger Tale: The history of the 2006 UST Growling Tigers Part 1

September 05, 2017

Back in 2006, with the suspension of perennial powerhouse De La Salle University, many believed that the UAAP Season 69 championship was there for the Ateneo Blue Eagles to take.

Because why not? The Blue Eagles certainly had the talent, the experience, the great coaching and basically everything that would and should make a championship team.

But in the seven-team lineup the UAAP offered close to a decade ago, there were the Growling Tigers of UST. A team that should have been mediocre at best, not good enough the win it all but not bad enough to occupy the cellar, the Tigers were in short, primed to be forgettable.

Apparently the Tigers were not informed of such situation and thus proceeded to deliver one of the most, if not the most, impressive and emotional championship stories in the new millennium.

Save for probably the 2014 NU Bulldogs, no team in the UAAP of recent memory displayed the “Team of Destiny” aura the 2006 Growling Tigers had during that magical Cinderella season.

And with the 2015 edition of the Growling Tigers receiving some similar treatment right before their highly-impressive Season 78 run, it’s the perfect time to relive the incredible journey of the team that started the whole “Puso, Pride, Palaban,” battle cry that has since evolved to “No Heart, No Chance.”

Straight from the personalities who lived it, this is the Tiger Tale: the history of the 2006 UST Growling Tigers, the most unlikely of champions.

Part 1 of 2.

DEATH, FIREMAN AND THE START OF A FAIRY TALE.

Prior to UAAP Season 69, the UST program saw a dramatic decline in terms of performance. The Tigers have not seen playoff basketball since Season 65 and the mystique brought about by their mid-1990s dynasty was effectively gone.

In order to revitalize its program, UST brought in Pido Jarencio to start coaching the team. Jarencio, known as the “Fireman” back when he was a Glowing Goldie and during a pro stint that included a stop with Ginebra, gave the Growling Tigers a much-needed spark thanks to his strong personality and mindset towards the game.

It also helped that the core of UST saw brighter days ahead of Season 69.

Dylan Ababou, forward, 2009 UAAP MVP: Mataas yung outlook naming nung time na yun, mataas yung confidence namin. Naisip namin na we can compete with the best.

Japs Cuan, starting point guard: Yung mindset kasi namin, basically new transition yan eh kasi new coach but actually nung time na yun nag-champion kami sa isang tournament so somehow parang nasabi namin sa sarili namin na this team is good enough. Syempre iba yung sa UAAP [but] we worked hard all summer, all year ayaw na kasi naming ma-tag as losers.

Of course, Jarencio’s tough persona immediately rubbed off on the team and the early makings of the “Puso, Pride, Palaban” were established.

Jojo Duncil, shooting guard, 2006 Finals MVP: Si coach Pido kasi kilala siya na palaban eh. Noon kumbaga kumpleto rekados na tayo at yung puso, yung pride nga tsaka yung palaban ang wala. So noong dumating si coach Pido eh nasa kanya pala yung puso, pride at palaban kaya ayun na-apply namin, nagamit namin. Kasi malaking bagay yung may pride ka, yung palaban ka kasi kahit anong galling mo kung hindi ka palaban wala kang patutunguhan.

Jervy Cruz, forward-center, elevated from Team B in 2006, 2007 UAAP MVP: Malaki yung impact noon [Jarencio’s arrival] dahil pinabayaan niya lang kami maglaro. Yun ang maganda sa kanya, bahala kayo basta enjoy lang walang pressure.

Ababou: Si coach Pido kasi, pagdating palang niya na-instill na niya kaagad sa minds namin na mananalo kami. Sobrang magaling siya na motivator, talagang gusto niya manalo at ang hirap ng practices namin. Binigyan niya ng confidence yung bawat isa sa amin.

As with all young teams going through transition, the Growling Tigers underwent their fair share of struggles that would continue until well after the first round of Season 69.

However, the team had something bigger to overcome at the start of the regular season, one that required heavy mental and emotional fortitude when teammate John Lee Apil tragically died on April 15, 2006.

Apil died of electrocution after saving two of his girlfriend’s relatives from being electrocuted in a Tuguegarao resort on Black Saturday.

His tragic death fueled the Tigers even more.

Duncil: Parang ginuide din niya kami [Apil], parang siya yung nagsakripisyo para matulungan niya kami sa victory namin. Isa rin sa naging [unexpected] blessing yun eh, parang inalalayan niya kami.

Cruz: Syempre malungkot kasi nawalan ka din ng kapatid at teammate. Si Apil hindi rin naiiba sa amin eh, sayang lang na nawala siya.

Cuan: It’s hard to lose a friend, a brother. So we dedicated that season to him and noong time na yun sabi namin whatever happens, para hindi naman sayang yung pinaghirapan din nung tao. He’s a hero so kami parang let’s [do] something na worth it dun sa sacrifice na ginawa niya.

Ababou: Nung namatay si Apil sinabi namin na ‘guys para masaya si Apil, maglaro tayo ngayong season,’ parang naniniwala kami, feeling namin si Apil present nung mga games namin. Naniwala kami na merong Divine Intervention.

FLIRTING WITH DISASTER

UAAP Season 69 officially opened on July 8, 2006 and despite the optimism UST had with the arrival of Pido Jarencio as well as the inspiration the Growling Tigers got from the sudden death of a brother; it looked like the team was on its way to another lost season.

Two promising victories over then-defending champion FEU Tamaraws and the upstart UE Red Warriors offset a shocking opening-day loss to the UP Fighting Maroons but from then on, things turned ugly for UST.

Injuries played a big role in their slide but the Tigers were losing by double-digits to teams like the NU Bulldogs (who went on to finish at last place). The lowest point was a 36-point shellacking at the hands of the Ateneo Blue Eagles.

Ababou: Kaya lang naman nangyari yun [losing streak] kasi ang daming may sakit. Key players naming kaya hindi kami naku-kumpleto. Siguro nung last game before the Final Four doon lang kami kumpleto.

OH CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN

Already tied for the 5th-7th spots at the end of the first round, the Growling Tigers were plunged into must-win mode for the rest of the tournament after the Red Warriors got their win back to start round 2.

Coming through in the face of adversity, UST would win four of its next five (another shocking loss to UP was the only dent in their run) as team captain Allan Evangelista rallied his teammates to the postseason.

Cuan: Hindi ko alam kung alam ng tao yung story na ito but there was a time na our captain Allan Evangelista, he’s been struggling eh, kasi that time parang iniisip nya na last year na niya and kung ano mangyayari after his playing year. I told him ‘Allan wag ka ma-pressure dahil it’s your last year, give me the pressure of leading this team.’

Ababou: Nag-practice kami noon hindi ko makalimutan yung sinabi ng team captain naming na si Allan Evangelista sabi niya ‘Our backs are against the wall, ayaw natin after 10 to 20 years magkaroon tayo ng regret na sana inayos natin itong game na ito.’ Tapos ang favorite niya na sinasabi ‘Guys i-extend niyo naman ako, extend niyo ako hanggang Final Four, extend niyo ako hanggang championship.’

Cuan: Yung turning point na yun kasi Allan is a senior to me di ba pero yung humility na sige mag-step down for me to be the leader of the team and for me to take responsibility, it paid off kasi after that he scored 31 points and from that moment I think yun na yung winning streak namin eh kasi everything was set. Nung time na yun I was glad to take that challenge, kahit third year ko pa lang nagtiwala siya sa akin.

With their season on the line, the Tigers would comeback against the Bulldogs and hold on to win anew versus the Tamaraws. Their signature victory came after they grounded the Blue Eagles in overtime, 88-80, minus three players. It was Ateneo’s first loss of the season and it planted seeds on how the rest of the tournament would go.

The Growling Tigers would survive the Adamson Falcons twice to formalize their entry to the Final Four as the third seed, earning a date with the UE Red Warriors.

Jojo Duncil: Parang destiny yung nangyari na hindi namin ma-explain, parang nag-boom lahat na tuluy-tuloy yung panalo. Sa sarili namin kaya namin pero hindi nagtatagpo nung first round eh, pero syempre yun nga nagusap-usap kami, nag-tulungan kami lahat para mabuo yung team.

Jervy Cruz: First round namin 2-4 ganun so kami parang ‘hay una pa lang pangit na record’ tapos yun nga pagdating ng second round, natalo ng UP. Naisip namin na once na matalo pa kami, wala na kami sa top four. Ilan yun, ilang straight yung nanalo kami although yun nga Adamson malakas din nandoon sina [Ken] Bono, pero tyinaga namin. Pinaka mahirap dun yung Ateneo eh, umabot sa overtime pag natalo kami dun wala na.

Cuan: Ang lokohan nga namin eh sabi ko walang bibitaw, lagi akong kumakanta nung song ng Spongecola kasi lagi kaming do-or-die so sabi ko walang bibitaw. Yung team namin sobrang resilient eh, we find a way to win. The good thing about that 2006 batch, ang iniisip namin hindi na sarili namin eh, inisip namin all these people na nagsa-sacrifice kasi sila pumipila to buy tickets. Kami we really have to play kasi pinapaaral kami ng students, parang it’s our job to play and for them to support us, sinasabi namin wag na tayo mahiya sa sarili natin mahiya tayo sa mga tao na sumusuporta sa atin. Nagbabayad sila para panoorin tayo tapos matatalo tayo.

How did the Growling Tigers manage to overcome UE in the Final Four and outlast the mighty Blue Eagles in the Finals?

Also, did one player from the 2006 UST squad really put his grade on the line just to prove a point? Who cried after game 1 of the Finals? Find out on part 2 of the Tigers Tale: the history of the 2006 UST Growling Tigers, the most unlikely of champions.