CHAMPIONS AT LONG LAST: Reliving UP’s successful 1986 UAAP revolt
Gerry Plaza on Nov 29, 2018 04:36 PM
The 1986 UP Fighting Maroons survived a playoff match against the FEU Tamaraws and overcame a twice-to-beat disadvantage to defeat the UE Red Warriors for its first UAAP men's basketball crown (photo courtesy of Anton Altamirano)It was the year of People Power, a revolution like no other.
And, who would think that such an “uprising” has spilled onto collegiate basketball the same year as the stronghold of the UE Red Warriors was overran?
What other ball club can best depict this EDSA Spirit than the 1986 UP Fighting Maroons?
Its putsch in the UAAP was carefully plotted since legendary coach Joe Lipa took over the coaching reigns in 1981. This began fierce onslaught only a year later when the Maroons made a rare march into the UAAP Finals against the UE, which boasted a fearsome shooter named Allan Caidic.
Led by the high leaper, Vincent Albino, the Maroons made that shocking feat, yet succumbed to the Warriors’ fiery offensive and lost. But, UP showed nevertheless they had what it takes to be a title contender.
And the rebuilding continued in 1983 when UP successfully recruited two big names in the NCAA--Ronnie Magsanoc and Eric Altamirano, stalwarts of the 1982 juniors champs San Beda Red Cubs. With Magsanoc directing plays and Altamirano scorching hot from all angles, UP further advanced in its ferocious plan of taking over the UAAP. But Glenn Capacio and Harmon Codinera of FEU frustrated the upstarts and dealt UP a painful loss in the Finals after being so close to winning the championship.
Their frustration became deeply rooted as the Maroons stumbled the next couple of years finding that “missing link” to glory.
And months after a dictatorship was toppled, UP’s powerful missing piece to its years of rebuilding came walking into the Maroon bench—the sensational 6’4” center Benjie Paras, also a hotshot alumnus of San Beda.
Paras became the answered prayer since the Maroons had players with an average height of 6’1” at the time, surely a no-match against the burly inside operators of other UAAP teams.
Now with a dominating center manning the paint, UP was set to finally chase that dream. And also they had an answer to the best big man of that era, Jerry Codinera, who had puzzled opponents with his shiftiness, defensive prowess (called the Defense Minister in the PBA), exceptional perimeter shooting, and versatility.
Best starting five
Also, UP has the best starting five in the league, all of them from that sensational Red Cubs basketball program concocted by coach Ato Badolato—Paras, Magsanoc, Altamirano, Joey Mendoza and Duane Salvatierra—with the sweet-shooting sixth man Joey Guanio, a rookie from La Salle Greenhills, providing added artillery and standout Ramil Cruz bringing in his outstanding all-around play.
Despite this, however, their title shot wasn’t smooth sailing. Codinera and the Warriors defeated them twice in the eliminations and UE came close to a sweep that would automatically serve them the trophy. But a loss to rival FEU in the last game in the eliminations paved the way for UP, who landed second place after winning a knockout match against the Tamaraws, for that hard-earned slot in the finals. They were however saddled with a twice-to-win disadvantage.
This didn’t matter to the Maroons, as their hunger for the title brought out the best in them.
With thousands of UP supporters trooping to the ULTRA in October 1986, the Maroons were unstoppable. Using a merciless zone, the Maroons were able to stifle Codinera from doing his thing in the paint.
This led to UP’s emphatic decisive win in Game 1, 86-75, that arranged a winner take-all championship match three days later.
And, in that rubber match, with the whole venue filled with UP students and alumni, from students, faculty, administrators to virtually the entire political spectrum to even former Diliman Commune leaders in the 1970s all coming in droves to cheer them on, how can the Maroons fail them?
Altamirano’s true worth
From the first time the buzzer sounded, the Maroons never allowed the Warriors to even move an inch, with its prolific scorer Altamirano showing his true worth. After subbing for a fouled out Magsanoc with a good four minutes left to play in the match, Altamirano shone with his playmaking skills and blazing marksmanship with his 27 points leaving the Warriors with no room to breathe. He ended up the tournament MVP that year.
Paras likewise prevailed in his giant duel with Codinera with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
With an insurmountable lead going into the final seconds, and coach Lipa reaching to the sky in triumph, the buzzer sounded with UP winning by nine points, 98-89.
More than a dream come true
And their first UAAP title in 47 years is now in their hands, more than a dream come true for the national cage mentor and the UP community he served. It brought a startling “revolution” into fruition, with UP taking over the reigns of the UAAP.
Unfortunately, however, the celebration was short-lived, with the Ateneo, La Salle, and UST dynastic runs succeeding their memorable feat. Now 32 seasons later, UP has a chance to finally taste that sweet, scintillating victory again.