One of the biggest “what-ifs” in Philippine basketball is Danny Francisco, a talented 6’6” center whose career was cut short in college due to a heart ailment. Before retiring at the age of 20, Francisco was a star player in high school and college, helping both the Blue Eaglets and Blue Eagles win UAAP championships in the mid-80s. He was also a member of the 1989 RP Youth team that won a bronze in the Asian Youth Championships held in Manila.
At his height and with offensive repertoire that included both outside shooting and post moves, Francisco was inevitably compared to the best Filipino center at the time (and some would say ever), four-time PBA MVP Ramon Fernandez.
We will never know if Francisco would have scaled those heights, but one of his former Ateneo teammates thinks it was very much possible. During a recent guesting on the online show “An Eternity of Basketball,” former Blue Eagles forward Eric Reyes said Francisco had the skill sets to become just as good as Fernandez.
“If Danny was able to play, he would have been the next Mon Fernandez,” Reyes said. “He’s taller than Mon or almost the same as Mon. I think he could have been at least at the same level as Mon or even better.”
Considering Fernandez is not only a four-time MVP but also a 19-time PBA champion and the league’s all-time leading scorer, that’s quite the statement. But Reyes believes Francisco would have entered the PBA at a time that players were starting to invest more into weight and skills training.
“When I look back at the skill sets of all the players, siyempre idol natin si Mon. Eventually nagkaroon na ng weight training, nagkaroon na ng skills training. And it started during my time. On a skill sets basis, kaya ni Danny mag point guard. Si Fritz Gaston, in one exhibition game in Baguio, he made me and Danny point guards. At that time, inu-upgrade na nila ang mga guards. The game is really all about creating mismatches.
“Ang dami kaagad made-develop nun pag nag-point guard siya eh. May tira si Danny sa labas. He has good post work. Maybe ang magiging difference niya is he could even surpass Don Ramon kung madagdagan pa niya ng three-point shot.”
Reyes, howver, admits that one-on-one Francisco might have had a hard time in the PBA against Benjie Paras.
“Magkakahirapan din kasi Tower of Power. Pero kung ang laro ay PBA, medyo mahihirapan si Danny. Nagwe-weights na kami nun pero si Benjie ibang klase talaga.”
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The Blue Eagles were poised to win three in a row in 1989, but aside from Francisco’s abrupt retirement, they also lost their other key center Alex Araneta to academic deficiencies. Reyes, who played power forward and was shorter than Francisco and Araneta, was the only big man left and was forced to play center.
“We found out Alex Araneta, our other center, kulang ng units na na-enroll. There’s a required number of units that each student would have to have. Eh kaso, nagkamali si Alex nun. Ang nadagdagan niya to complete the 12 or 14 units was CMT (Citizens Military Training). So hindi counted. So out si Alex. And then si Danny naman nagka-problema with his heart. So dalawang 6’6 yung nawala. So natira na lang ako. Pinag-sentro ako.”
With a depleted frontline, the Blue Eagles failed to achieve a three-peat. Three years later, after completeing his five-year UAAP career, Reyes played two seasons in the Philippine Basketball League before joining the 1992 PBA draft, where he was taken seventh overall by Swift.
It was at Swift where Reyes won his first PBA title in the 1992 Third Conference. Coached by Yeng Guiao, the Mighty Meaties easily won the championship with super import Tony Harris, who scored 105 points earlier in the conference to set a record that stands to this day.
Reyes credits Harris with helping him become a better player, even though there were times he was annoyed by the American’s nagging during practice.
“Tony was actually a good teammate. He was talking to me a lot kasi ako yung off-ball. Teams were already starting to double-team him a lot. So I had to be (ready to make) the shot. Magagalit yun sayo pag di mo shino-shoot yung bola.
“He was getting on my nerves every single day. Maingay eh. Madada. Pag di mo na-shoot yung bola madaming reklamo. He corrected my shot, he improved it a bit para magkaroon ng backspin. And then in every drill in practice gusto niya duma-dunk ako. After that ’92 season I really got strong because in practice Tony always emphasized, ‘When you go for that drill go for the dunk.’”
Reyes went on to play 11 seasons in the PBA, appearing in 463 games for Swift/Sunkist, Mobiline and Alaska. Watch his full AEOB interview below, with his comments about Francisco starting at around the 51:20 mark: