Milestone

Tiger Tale: The history of the 2006 UST Growling Tigers Part 2

September 11, 2017

Looking at the UST Growling Tigers’ record in Season 68 and their lineup coming into Season 69, there was no way that team could win a championship or even make the Final Four.

A relatively young team with no experience combined with a new and unproven coach, there was little to no chance that UST was going to make a deep run.

And after they lost senior Jemal Vizcarra, who happened to be one of their leading scorers, for the season after an ACL tear in their very first game, no way the Tigers can do something worth remembering now.

Wrong.

In any case, the injury to Vizcarra brought the team closer, not that they needed any more inspiration during that point of the season, and it became one of the many “unexpected blessings” to the team that year.

Jojo Duncil was forced to step up to plate and Jervy Cruz needed to quickly assume a prime time role just as he was learning to play with the big boys after being elevated from UST’s Team B.

Looking at what the Growling Tigers went through that year all the way from the preseason to the last game of the eliminations, there was no way the team could win.

Fortunately they had none of all that and so we have the Tiger Tale: the history of the 2006 UST Growling Tigers, the most unlikely of champions.


Part 2 of 2.

WE’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE

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

After a roller-coaster regular season that saw them deal with a new coach, death, injuries and all sorts of drama, the 2006 UST Growling Tigers finally made some of their critics eat their words by qualifying for the Final Four as the third seed.

Standing in their way was the upstart UE Red Warriors squad, a young and talented team who on the very next season would sweep the UAAP all the way to the finals.

The Tigers split their season series with the Red Warriors, and that was enough reason to be confident even if their opponents had a twice-to-beat advantage.

Plus they were finally healthy.

Dylan Ababou, forward, 2009 UAAP MVP: Yun yung time na na-kumpleto kami talaga so sabi naming ‘guys magandang balita ito, first time natin ma-kumpleto baka maganda yung maging resulta.’

Jojo Duncil, shooting guard, 2006 Finals MVP: Noong time na yun, underdog kami eh pero ayun nga nag-umpisa yun nung second round na nag-start na kami manalo. One at a time lagi kami nananalo and nung nakarating na kami sa semis sabi namin nandito na tayo so kailangan seryoso na, mas lalo na natin pagbutihan.

Jervy Cruz, forward-center, elevated from Team B in 2006, 2007 UAAP MVP: Nandoon na yung pagkakataon tapos hindi natin alam kung kelan ulit mangyayari yun. So binigay na namin yung best namin.

Japs Cuan, starting point guard: One game at a time lang kami, sabi nga namin we’re not supposed to be here in the first place. Starting the second round dead-last kami but it happens for a reason eh, sabi nga namin bakit ngayon pa tayo gi-give up.

The Growling Tigers managed to push themselves to victory in the back-and-forth first game, 79-75, but it was no big deal as many have done that before. What was more important was how they can carry the momentum into the do-or-die contest with a finals slot hanging in the balance.

Luck would favor the Tigers early on as UE star Bonbon Custodio was suspended by the team for “disciplinary issues.”

UST went on a roll early on before Jojo Duncil gave a little finals preview by knocking down a clutch basket to give the team some much needed breathing room to preserve the win.

Ababou: Ayun sinasabi ni Allan [Evangelista] na guys ‘manalo naman tayo ng isang game para ma-extend niyo ako’ yun lang sinasabi niya. Ayun swerte nung game 1 ng Final Four tapos game 2 hindi pinalaro si Bonbon Custodio so kumbaga 18 points na kaagad yung minus sa kanila, so swerte din nung game na yun lalo na kasi nagmi-mintis sila ng crucial shots.

Cuan: Ang maganda kasi dun is we were always the underdogs so wala sa amin yung pressure, always the other team like UE, twice-to-beat sila so sila dapat manalo. But in the end kami yung nanalo kasi we just played UST basketball and credit goes to all my teammates kasi they responded to the challenge. Win or lose, we’ll always be brothers.

With a thrilling 82-81 victory to complete the Final Four upset, the Tigers booked their first finals since 1999.

A date with the mighty Ateneo Blue Eagles was on the horizon.


GAME 1: HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT

Once again, all odds were set against the Tigers as the Season 69 finals rolled around despite the fact that they split their season series against the Blue Eagles, handing Ateneo its first ever loss that year.

Both teams did not disappoint as the opening salvo of the title round was a classic, one that boiled down to the last two possessions.

Doug Kramer and the rest of the Blue Eagles robbed Evangelista of a signature finals moment after the Ateneo big man hit a shot at the buzzer for the win, 73-72.

In the previous scoring play, Evangelista buried the go-ahead fadeaway jumper over Kramer.

Cruz: Naiyak pa ako nun dahil ako yung bantay ni Kramer eh. Parang nag-switch kami ni Japs pero akin talaga si Kramer. Naiyak ako nun habang naliligo ako sinabi ko sa coaches na bakit nangyari yun kasi one second na lang eh, hindi mo na iisipin na pwede pa palang mangyari yun.

Cuan: Yung talo namin nay un, sobrang sakit but we took it, we had them eh. They played their best game and sa amin, nagkamali lang kami so kaya naming mag-bounce back.


GAME 2: NO PRESSURE FOR THE OVERACHIEVERS

The Tigers jumped on the Blue Eagles early in game 2 on their way to earning a pretty convincing 87-71 win.

With Dylan Ababou and Jojo Duncil leading the way, Pido Jarencio’s scrappy Tigers have pushed the favored Blue Eagles to a deciding game 3.

Ababou: Well nung pumasok kami sa finals nasa isip naming nag-overachieve na kami eh. So pagdating nung game 2, wala kaming pressure. Pag matalo okay lang. Nag-overachieve na tayo para dumating sa finals mula sa 2-4 nung first round. Mas pressure sa Ateneo kasi iki-clinch nila yung series eh.

Cruz: Sila Kramer, sila JC, talagang beterano na sa UAAP. Kami nun wala sigurong kilala samin nung time na yun so advantage din naming na kindi kami kilala. Naglaro lang kami, nag-enjoy.

Cuan: Ang maganda sa amin, no one believed na we were going to make the finals, no one ever thought of it beyond ourselves. Sayang naman yung team namin nay un na we’re good but inexperienced pero ang maganda, nanaig sa amin yung walang pressure. So if we beat them [Ateneo], we beat them. Tinalo nila kami nung game 1 by one point sabi namin yun na sila eh, hirap sila sa amin so just play our game, no pressure. Win or lose I think we gained the respect of the Thomasians, iba sumuporta ang Thomasians. Saludo ako sa UST.


GAME 3: PUSO. PRIDE. PALABAN.

The final showdown between the UST Growling Tigers and the Ateneo Blue Eagles in the UAAP Season 69 turned out to be a blockbuster.

Both teams exchanged haymakers like champions in a heavyweight bout. Ateneo took control in the first half before UST made it a game in the second.

However, in the fourth quarter, the Tigers found themselves down by five with a minute left to play without Jervy Cruz, who earlier drew his fifth and final foul, and Allan Evangelista.

The Tigers, thanks to Anthony Espiritu and Mark Canlas, managed to force overtime and in the extra session, it was the Jojo Duncil show.

Duncil: Sinabihan ako ni coach Pido, diba graduate na sina Allan Evangelista tsaka si Jervy Cruz, sabi ni coach ‘Jo ikaw na bahala wala na yung dalawa’ so syempre sakin naman, may tiwala si coach nung time nay un talagang habang naglalaro iniisip ko na wala na, no choice na kasi yung ibang key player naming wala na. Kailangan ko na mag-step up. Di ko rin alam nangyayari kasi lahat nung mga tira natin pumasok, blessing talaga ni God.

Ababou: Kinakabahan ako personally kasi first time ko maglalaro sa isang game na kumbaga last na nung season, tapos final pa yun, lahat nanonood. Sobrang excited ako pero sobrang credit kay coach Pido, kasi ang ganda talaga nung balasa niya, minotivate niya kami ng husto. Tapos yung Divine Intervention din nung teammate naming na si Apil, kasi may isang time [during game 2] nasa free throw si Ford Arao biglang may butterfly na dumaan, paano makakapasok yung butterfly sa Araneta? May tulong din galing sa Taas tapos sobrang nag-step up teammates ko lalo na si Jojo Duncil, yun yung nagpa-champion sa amin eh. Kung wala siguro si Jojo doon, di kami champion. Ganun kasimple.

Cruz: Bihira ako ma-foul out hindi ko alam kung bakit game 3 na-foul out ako. Ang sama ng loob ko na nasa bench lang ako nanonood tapos hindi ako makatulong sa team. Maganda naman si Jojo nag-step up so siya yung gumawa ng paraan para manalo kami kasi gusto din niya manalo.

Cuan: I had this professor na sabi ‘wala pala kayo eh’ so ako parang sir di ah, tapos nakipagpustahan siya sakin na sige manalo kayo uno ka pag natalo kayo singko ka. Ganun ako katiwala sa team ko, from down 0-1 kami ah, ganun ako katiwala syempre ayoko minamaliit yung team ko dib a walang isip-isip tinaya ko yung grade ko.

Duncil scored 18 points, eight in overtime, to lead the Growling Tigers to a dramatic 76-74 win effectively ending UST’s ten-year drought for the UAAP title.

The Tigers finally did what nobody else thought they could do and in effect, captured the hearts of not only Thomasians but many other basketball fans.


THE AFTERMATH

Lost in the celebration was the fact that the 2006 championship win paid huge dividends to the members of the squad in the future.

Both Dylan Ababou and Jervy Cruz would go on to win the MVP award in separate years before making the PBA.

Ababou also became part of the original Gilas Pilipinas national team.

Jojo Duncil would also make the PBA and later win a championship for Petron.

Japs Cuan never played in the PBA but he has been part of UST’s basketball coaching staff for many years now while head coach Pido Jarencio would make the finals two more times before realizing his dream of coaching in the PBA as well.

Overall, the support for the Growling Tigers has never really wavered thanks to the 2006 win even if the team has yet to win another title since.

Ababou: Naalala ko nun sabi ni coach Pido sakin kapag nag-champion kayo lahat kayo magpi-PBA. Nung sinabi niya yun lalo kaming na-motivate. Nagkatotoo naman yung sinabi ni coach, hindi naman sure ticket pero malaki yung chance mo na makapag-PBA. Feeling ko kung hindi kami nag-champion nung 2006 hindi ako maco-consider sa Gilas, hindi tataas yung morale, yung confidence ko na kaya ko mag PBA. Sobrang turning point sa career ko yung 2006, malaki ang utang na loob ko.

In the end, what the members of the 2006 team finds special is the fact that they helped restore the glory in UST with the whole Puso. Pride. Palaban slogan of course, bridging the gap from the dominant 1990s dynasty to the Comeback Cats this year.

Cuan: Siguro yung legacy na iniwan naming, alam mo yung feeling na you were counted out but refused to give up? Yun yun maganda sa batch namin eh, everyone counted us out but we kept fighting for this crowd na sobrang, hands down, the best crowd. It’s always been puso, pride, palaban. It’s all about heart kasi yung four-peat champion team natin, they were really a strong team, sobrang lakas. Pero yung team namin, we’re all starting lang eh, we are not that talented but we played our hearts out for our school. Live and die growling, that 2006 team lived and died growling. I’m proud of that.

Cruz: Sobrang tagal na after ten years bago kami nag-champion. Kami naman wala kami ine-expect nun, basta maglaro lang kami. Magandang factor yun kasi naibalik namin yung panalo sa UST. Naging identity naming is palaban talaga, yung tinuro samin ni coach Pido nun unang-una dapat lumaban, wag matakot kasi once na natakot kayo sa court yun na, wala ng mangyayari.

Duncil: Naging palaban kami kahit na pangit [yung start], naging palaban kami talaga tsaka deserving naman kami na manalo kahit underdogs kami. Pinakita namin na kaya namin, kinaya namin.

Ababou: Ang slogan ni coach Pido nun eh puso, pride, palaban, yun yung tingin ko na character naming, yun yung identity namin. Yung team may puso, yung team may pride, UST pride at yung team talagang palaban kasi pinangunahan ni coach Pido. Sobrang lahat ng games naming dinedicate namin kay Lord, Lord kayo na bahala sa game, manalo kami matalo kami Kayo na po bahala. Sabay-sabay kami pupunta ng chapel every game, bago every practice. Yun talaga nakita ko na identity namin, puso, pride, palaban tsaka syempre trust in the Lord.

As defending champions and hosts, the Growling Tigers lost to the Blue Eagles in round 1 of the stepladder semifinals in Season 70, 64-69. La Salle won the championship that year.

Under Pido Jarencio, the Tigers would make back-to-back finals in Seasons 75 and 76, losing to Ateneo and La Salle respectively.