Benjie Paras: UP's Tower of Power

Gerry Plaza on Nov 30, 2018 06:31 PM
Benjie Paras: UP's Tower of Power
Benjie Paras (left) teamed up with fellow former San Beda Red Cub Ronnie Magsanoc to deliver the University of the Philippines' first UAAP men's basketball title in 1986 (Photo courtesy of Ronnie Magsanoc).

He was the dominating center of the San Beda Red Cubs that stoked fear in high school leagues in the early 1980s. And because it will take the Benedictine school two more years to return to the NCAA, Venancio “Benjie” Paras Jr., a lanky upstart with much promise, saw it fit to continue his stride towards basketball superstardom in the UAAP as part of a school already replete of former Cubs—the UP Fighting Maroons, after his high school graduation in 1986.

And, it seemed UP head coach Joe Lipa wanted more of San Beda High head coach Ato Badolato’s former wards in Mendiola. In addition to Ronnie Magsanoc and Eric Altamirano running the backcourt, he wanted Paras to man the paint to complete the “San Beda connection”; a missing link he considers in copping that elusive UAAP crown.

Who else could be more qualified than Paras, who lorded it over the Red Cubs from 1984 to 1986 from an illustrious start in the defunct Metro Manila Basketball League to several other private school tourneys? As a teener, Paras was awesomely powerful, grabbing rebounds without opposition, and scoring without resistance as he receives the ball in the shaded lane.

You would see him score 30 to 40 points a game without letup as opponents offered little resistance, except of course the La Salle Greenhills Greenies, bannered by Binky Favis and Joey Guanio, who dealt San Beda’s painful championship loss during Paras’ last year with the Cubs in the MMBL.

Frustrated and heartbroken, Paras vowed to let it all out in the collegiate league, ironically however, with his high school rival Guanio on the same team.

And since the 1986 UAAP tournament began, Paras showed his dominance even as a rookie, outplaying defenders with his ferocious tenacity, as he delivered on both ends of the court. With Magsanoc’s on-court wizardry, Paras was unstoppable, scoring and rebounding at will.

No one had the might or even the gall to block Paras’s path, except the defending champions UE Red Warriors’ top star and starting center Jerry Codinera.  And, with Codinera leading, UE topped the double round robin eliminations and just needed to beat UP once in the finals to retain the championship.

Little did they expect, however, that Paras hasn’t displayed his full arsenal yet.

With Magsanoc, Altamirano supporting him and Guanio and all-around performer Joey Mendoza backing him up on the wings, Paras showed Codinera and the rest of the Red Warriors his true mettle as he led the Maroons to a Game 1 blowout, 86-75, to arrange a winner take-all match three days later.

And on that day, as they sought to bag their first UAAP title in 47 years, Paras was focused and determined.

He ran rings around Codinera, engineering the Maroons’ a game-long dominance of the Red Warriors with almost the entire ULTRA, filled with UP supporters to the brim. With an insurmountable lead going into the dying seconds, it was a dream come true for Paras, seething from a painful setback in his previous senior year as a Red Cub, to now basking in glory giving UP the emphatic title that will forever be remembered in UP and UAAP annals.

With a double-double 19 points and 10 rebounds, Paras was named rookie of the year, a feat he will replicate in three years as he marched into the PBA as the “Tower of Power” for Formula Shell.

 

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