This is part of a series from The Rivalry naming the five greatest PBA players from UAAP and NCAA member schools. Some ground rules to explain the rankings:
1. Players are ranked according to their PBA achievements, and NOT their college achievements.
2. If a player played for more than one school in college, the series writers – Jay Mercado and Jude Roque – will decide between themselves which school the player will fall under.
3. Players who excelled in college but whose playing years preceded the PBA are unfortunately not included (i.e., Caloy Loyzaga for San Beda).
4. Players who played for a college or university before that school joined the UAAP or NCAA are included for consideration.
5. Only current UAAP and NCAA member schools are included in the series, but not necessarily all of them.
Lyceum of the Philippines University (LPU) Pirates
The Lyceum of the Philippines University was founded by no less than former Philippine President Jose P. Laurel in 1952. Located in Intramuros, Manila, LPU has produced many prominent basketball personalities even though the university was only admitted in the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) in 2011, initially as a guest team. Prior to its NCAA participation, the school competed for many years in the National Capitol Region Athletics Association (NCRAA), and also in the Inter-Scholastic Athletics Association (ISAA), which it co-founded in 2009. LPU gained regular membership status in the NCAA in 2015.
The school’s varsity men’s team is known as the Pirates and they carry the international red and gray colors in their competition uniforms. Led by NCAA Season 94 MVP CJ Perez, the Pirates swept the elimination phase of the 2017 NCAA tournament to gain outright entry into the finals. But they succumbed to the heavy championship experience of then defending champion San Beda University, 0-2, in the best-of-three finals. The following year, LPU made it again to the finals but San Beda maintained its domination of the league to get its three-peat. Last year, in NCAA Season 98, the Pirates qualified for the Final Four for the fourth time since joining the league. However, they bowed to eventual champion Letran College in the semis.
Here is The Rivalry’s list of the five greatest PBA players produced by Lyceum of the Philippines University:
5. Leo Austria (PBA 1985-1993)
Leovino “Leo” Austria played for LPU long before the school entered the NCAA. But despite the limited collegiate limelight exposure, the 5’9” pride of Sariaya, Quezon started to get noticed when he saw action in the now defunct semi-professional league Philippine Amateur Basketball League (PABL). In 1984, the sweet-shooting point guard snatched the PABL MVP plum. And that catapulted Austria to greater heights in pro basketball.
Accomplishments: 1x champion (with Formula Shell in the 1990 First Conference); 1985 Rookie of the Year; played for two franchises namely Shell and Pepsi, from 1985 to 1993; played 394 games in nine seasons averaging 4.5 points.
Austria was picked by Formula Shell in the 1985 Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Draft in the fourth round. But he would make his presence felt early in his rookie year, using an odd-looking but deadly long-distance shooting from beyond the three-point arc. Leo became Shell’s best outside gunner while also serving as court general. He made such a great impact in his freshman year that he bagged the Rookie of the Year (ROY) honor. Later in his playing career, he also suited up for the Pepsi team.
When he retired at the end of the 1993 season, Austria ventured into basketball coaching. He coached the Chowking team in the PABL, and even returned to the hardcourt as a playing coach in 1999 when his guards sustained various injuries. He had a stellar coaching career in the amateur ranks, winning championships in the PABL and also having respectable stints in the collegiate level coaching the Adamson University Falcons in the Universities Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP) in the mid-2000’s.
But it was back in the PBA where Austria would stamp his class as a hoops mentor, winning nine PBA titles as head coach. He was also named PBA Baby Dalupan Coach of the Year four times. In the last PBA Philippine Cup, he led the San Miguel Beermen to another championship, defeating TNT Ka Tropa in Game 7 of the best-of-seven finals.
4. CJ Perez (NCAA 2017-2018, PBA 2018 – present)
Christian Jaymar “CJ” Perez was sensational even during his college days. He moved from San Sebastian College to Ateneo de Manila University and finally to LPU. It was with the Pirates that CJ’s star shone brightest when he led LPU to a sweep of the 2017 NCAA season elimination phase and a first ever league finals appearance for the school. Although the Pirates lost to the San Beda Red Lions in the finals, Perez was the clear choice for tournament MVP after averaging 19.3 markers, 6.5 boards, and 3.6 dimes. The following year, he spearheaded another finals stint for LPU. But for the second straight year, San Beda swept LPU in the finals, especially after CJ missed Game 1. He was suspended by the league for not giving prior notice that he declared for the PBA Draft, the same violation that meted San Beda’s Yousif Aljamal a one-game suspension in 2007. CJ was also the 2018 PBA D-League MVP.
Achievements: 1x champion (2022 Philippine Cup); 2019 Rookie of the Year; 2019 Mythical First Team; 2021 Mythical Second Team; 2x Scoring Champion (2019, 2020); 2019 All-Defensive Team; 2019 All-Rookie Team; Played 76 games so far, averaging 34.2 minutes, 18.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.6 steals, and 44% shooting clip.
Perez was picked first overall in the 2019 PBA Draft by Terrafirma Dyip. In his first ever PBA game, he erupted for 26 points. Later in the same season, he set his career-high of 39 points in a 120-105 Terrafirma win over NLEX. The 6’3” forward from Bautista, Pangasinan also led the league in scoring that year, enough to make him the 2019 Rookie of the Year. He also made it to the Mythical First Team that season. In 2021, Perez was traded to San Miguel Beer for Matt Ganuelas-Rosser, Russel Escoto, Gelo Alolino, and two future first round picks. He was surely instrumental in San Miguel’s conquest of the 2022 Philippine Cup. Perez is also part of the 20-man Gilas pool for the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
Only three years into the league and CJ has already become a legit superstar. Ten years from now, he would likely be on top of this same list of the best five PBA players from LPU.
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3. Dante Gonzalgo (PBA 1984-1993)
Gonzalgo was a teammate of Austria’s when Lyceum was still playing in the defunct Manila Universities and Colleges Athletic Association (MUCAA) in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1980, he was named to the RP Youth team that finished second in the Asian Youth tournament. In 1982, he suited up for Crispa’s amateur team that won the Panim Invitational Cup in Indonesia and was selected to the national team that placed fourth in the New Delhi Asian Games.
Achievements: 3x champion; 1989 Most Improved Player; First in the league to play 280 consecutive games; Played for Gold Eagle and Ginebra in ten seasons; Played 505 games averaging 9.12 points, 4.05 rebounds, 1.82 assists, and 0.68 steals. Was part of the 1990 Philippine Dream Team in the Beijing Asian Games.
Dante Gonzalgo only played ten seasons in the PBA but he certainly made an admirable pro career. He entered the league in 1984, playing for Gold Eagle Beer. But when the franchise took a leave of absence in 1986, the Sorsogon native was picked up by Ginebra playing coach Robert Jaworski. Gonzalgo was one of several unheralded players that Jaworski recruited to build the franchise. It was during this period that Ginebra’s fame came to life, which later on evolved to the cult it is today. Led by the “Big J” Jaworski, this team of former role players, Gonzalgo among them, would be notable for its amazing come-from-behind victories that further heightened its popularity.
It was with the Ginebra franchise that Dante spent his best years in the PBA, developing into a tough, physical defender and even “import stopper.” Although also regarded as a proficient slasher and above average shooter, Gonzalgo was a very reliable defender, and was often assigned to shackle imports. In An Eternity Of Basketball podcast interview, he revealed that the toughest player he ever had to guard was Swift import Tony “Hurricane” Harris, who still holds the league record for most points in a single game with 105 markers. In that fateful night, Harris was Dante’s defensive assignment. But despite his best efforts, the electrifying import still scorched the baskets to lift Swift to the 151-147 triumph over Ginebra.
But Gonzalgo also had his heroic moments for Ginebra. In a semifinals match versus San Miguel, he hit a booming fast-break trey that won the game for his squad, 123-122. They only needed two points to send the game into overtime but waiting near the basket to stop his assault is San Miguel import Norman Black, who was a great shot-blocker. So he made the hurried decision to pull up from downtown.
Gonzalgo was also known as the PBA’s “Iron Man”, a moniker originally given to Jimmy Noblezada, for playing 280 straight games – a first in the PBA. This record was eclipsed later on by Alvin Patrimonio and LA Tenorio.
But without a doubt, the highlight of Dante’s PBA career was being selected to the Philippine Team in 1990, dubbed as the “Dream Team,” which was the first all-PBA roster national team to compete internationally. This team was composed of the very best active players in the PBA at the time, and even preceded the immaculate Michael Jordan-led USA Dream Team that was formed a year later. The all-pro Nationals had the likes of Ramon Fernandez, Alvin Patrimonio, Benjie Paras, Hector Calma, Samboy Lim, Ronnie Magsanoc, and Allan Caidic, with Jaworski as head coach. Gonzalgo’s Ginebra teammates Chito Loyzaga and Rey Cuenco . The team took home the silver in the 1990 Beijing Asian Games after bowing to host China, 74-90, in the final match. This was Gonzalgo’s third tour of duty with the national team.
Also in 1990, Gonzalgo had his best performance in the PBA, averaging 17 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 3.1 assists in 36.1 minutes of play. He helped steer Anejo Rum (Ginebra) to the 1991 First Conference championship. Two years later, he retired from the PBA after suffering from bone spurs in both feet.
2. Gary David (PBA 2004-2016)
Gary David, along with fellow sharp-shooting guard Chico Lanete, towed LPU to three consecutive bridesmaid finishes in the NCRAA in the early 2000’s, behind the powerhouse St. Francis of Assisi College that was bannered by the De Ocampo brothers Yancy and Ranidel. In 2003, David won the Philippine Basketball League (PBL) MVP trophy while playing for the Montana Pawnshop Jewellers.
Achievements: 2011 Best Player of the Conference (BPC) in the Philippine Cup; 4x scoring champion (2010-2013); 2014 All-Star MVP; 2007 Most Improved Player; 2x Mythical First Team (2007, 2012); 2007 All-Defensive First Team; 2007 Comeback Player of the Year; 2007 Sportsmanship Award; 5x All-Star; Played 13 seasons for various teams namely Coca-Cola, Air21, Powerade, Global Port, Meralco, San Miguel Beer, and Mahindra; Played 465 games averaging 28 minutes, 16 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.5 steals, and 32.8 % 3-pt. FG, and 81.8% FT shooting. 64th player to reach the 5,000-point mark.
“El Granada” Gary David is considered among the all-time best shooters in the PBA, thus the moniker. He was so explosive with his offense that he led the league in scoring in four seasons, from 2010 to 2013. Drafted tenth overall by Coca-Cola in 2004, the 6’2” sniper from Dinalupihan, Bataan was traded mid-season to Air21, where he became back-up to main man Renren Ritualo. A year later, Gary uncorked 19 points in Game 5 of the quarterfinals versus Talk N’ Text to send Air21 to its first ever semifinals stint. That game started David’s rise to stardom in the PBA. In the 2007 season, he was edged out by Willie Miller in the MVP race, especially after suffering an elbow injury during one tournament. But in that same year, he won other major individual awards including the Most Improved Player and Comeback Player of the Year awards. He became only the 64th player to enter the PBA’s 5,000-point club.
David also had a stellar stint with the Gilas Pilipinas national team, being part of the remarkable squad that defeated Korea and won the silver in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, and the team that entered the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.
David left the league in 2016 to pursue a political career as a councilor in his hometown. In 2018, he returned to the hard court playing for the Bataan Defenders in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL). He is currently in the active roster of the Pampanga Giant Lanterns in the MPBL.
1. Ato Agustin (PBA 1989-2001)
Renato “Ato” Agustin played college ball for both the University of Assumption in Pampanga and LPU.
Achievements: 7x champion; 1992 Most Valuable Player (MVP); 1991 Most Improved Player; 2000 Comeback Player of the Year; 3x Mythical First Team (1992-1994); 1x Mythical Second Team (1991); 6x All-Star; Played for San Miguel Beer, Pop Cola, Mobiline, Sta. Lucia Realty, and Red Bull; 14ppg, 3.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists in 569 games spread.
Without a doubt, Ato Agustin is the most illustrious product of the LPU that played in the PBA. Owner of seven PBA championship rings, he was part of the star-studded San Miguel Beermen (SMB) team as a rookie when it won the grand slam in 1989. Three seasons later, while still with SMB, he bagged the Season MVP plum. Prior to that, he also annexed the 1991 Most Improved Player honor. Fondly called the “Atom Bomb,” Agustin was one of the finest scorers in the early 90’s, apart from being a highly respectable combo guard.
After an outstanding career in the PBA, the pride of Lubao, Pampanga jumped to the budding pro league Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) in 1998, suiting up for the Pampanga Dragons. But he went back to the PBA a year later, donning the Sta. Lucia Realty jersey before moving to the Red Bull franchise, where he won his last championship as a player. In 2000, he was named PBA Comeback Player of the Year. He retired after the 2001 season to start a coaching career.
Agustin immediately made an impact as a basketball mentor, leading San Sebastian College to the 2009 NCAA diadem. Among his players then were Calvin Abueva and Ian Sangalang. He then joined the coaching staff of SMB, where he later on served as head coach. In 2011, he piloted Petron (SMB) to the 2011 Governor’s Cup title. He now serves as a deputy coach with the Beermen.
Honorable mentions: Joey Mente, Josel Angeles, Alex Clariño, Joseph Gabayni and Jesper Ayaay.