When it comes to serving the Philippine basketball team, Jong Uichico has gone full circle.
He was a member of the gold medal-winning national team in the 1982 ABC Youth Championship in Manila and was one among those elevated to play for the men’s program bankrolled by Northern Consolidated of then ambassador Danding Cojuangco.
Uichico played for the men’s team until 1984 when NCC first saw action as a guest team in the PBA, then spent the next few years playing in the PABL.
Uichico never got a chance to play in the PBA again and retired for good in the late ‘80s.
He went to the United States to work, but got an opportunity to return to the Philippine basketball scene when he coached La Salle-Zobel in the UAAP juniors in 1992 before serving as one of the assistant coaches of Norman Black at San Miguel in 1993.
When the Beermen won the All-Filipino championship in 1994, they represented the country in the Asian Games and Uichico went along as an assistant.
That team was later on reinforced by players from Purefoods — Alvin Patrimonio, Jerry Codinera and Rey Evangelista — while then sophomore Johnny Abarrientos was loaned by Alaska to help shore up the backcourt of the national squad. Also joining the team were Marlou Aquino and Kenneth Duremdes, who were then amateur standouts.
In 2001, while the Philippine men’s team was preparing for the Busan Asian Games, Ron Jacobs, a long-time mentor of Uichico, suffered from stroke.
That left Uichico to take over the head coaching post and from there on, the nephew of the late great team executive Danny Floro of Crispa, has been a constant fixture in the Philippine men’s basketball squad.
After coaching the national team in 2002, Uichico served as deputy coach for Chot Reyes from 2005 to 2007 in the latter’s first stint as Philippine men’s squad coach.
When Yeng Guiao took over as head coach of Powerade Pilipinas in 2009, Uichico served as a scout during the squad’s campaign in the William Jones Cup.
In 2012, when Reyes returned as head coach, Uichico was once again part of the coaching staff and stayed on in all the years the current TNT Tropang Giga coach was handling Gilas Pilipinas.
Uichico also served as an assistant coach to Tab Baldwin when he was calling the shots for Gilas, as well as to Tim Cone, who coached the last men’s team that won the SEA Games in 2019 in Manila.
In between, Uichico has had the opportunity coaching the national squad in the Southeast Asian Games in 2013 and 2017, leading those teams to gold medal finishes.
Uichico doesn’t turn his back when it comes to service to the country, but for the nine-time PBA champion coach, there’s no greater feeling than giving back.
Currently the head of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas’ Coaches and Technical Commission, Uichico heads both the coaches, referees, table officials and statisticians.
He is busy touring the country and teaching aspiring basketball coaches who want to take their game to the next level while sharing inputs in some of the technical aspects of the game.
For Uichico, it’s his way of giving back to the game and for the man who is destined to be associated with basketball, the satisfaction is immeasurable.
His basketball clinics are highly valued and appreciated grassroots program by all SBP regions across the country as it seeks to address the uplifting of the coaching knowhow of our local coaches, especially those in the provinces.
“Whenever there’s no Gilas duties, I’m with my duties with the SBP,” said Uichico.
While going to different provinces, Uichico was able to nurture some of the learnings in the Gilas squad and share it to aspiring mentors.
“You’re playing in the international competitions, so marami kang learnings when you’re with the national team,” he added. “You play overseas, go up against different coaches, different teams. So you learn a lot. All the learnings I had for so many years would trickle down all the way to the grassroots coaches.”
For Uichico, this new calling is the culmination of a colorful career in basketball.
“Parang hand in hand, one is helping another,” added Uichico. “Being part of the Gilas team also gives credibility to all my clinics happening in different parts of the country. It’s a perfect combination.
“But I think this is the most satisfying, going to the grassroots level and teaching all these coaches. I’m one of the lucky ones, so this is some sort of a payback because somehow, medyo sinuwerte ka naman. Alam naman natin yung mga nasa grassroots, they want to learn also pero wala namang opportunity, so give them the opportunity by going to them.”
(Photo courtesy of SBP Coaches Academy)