In a March 27, 1984 article featured on the People’s Journal, the late Coach Ron Jacobs was asked, if given a chance to field PBA players to the Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC), who he would include in the final roster. Jacobs named eight pros – Ramon Fernandez, Abe King, Francis Arnaiz and Robert Jaworski of Toyota, Alberto Guidaben and Philip Cezar of Crispa and Ricardo Brown and William Adornado of Great Taste. Jacobs was quoted to have said, “these eight would be enough to win the ABC title for us.”
At that time, Jacobs was the national team’s head coach. He began his exploits when he piloted the NCC Training Team to the 1981 Jones Cup title against the likes of top teams from Sweden, New Zealand, France, and the United States. He continued his success with a resounding recapture of the Asian Youth title in 1982 held in Manila against China. After a debacle in the 1983 ABC when the Philippine team was “ambushed” in Hong Kong, resulting in a disappointing ninth-place finish. Jacobs was primed to win the 1985 ABC title in Kuala Lumpur after the country won its last title in 1973 held in Manila.
The Philippines’ inability to win succeeding ABC biennial championships from 1975 to 1983 was because of the formation of Asia’s first play for pay league, preventing our best players from playing in international FIBA tournaments. The national team roster was taken from the top amateur players in the land, playing in the MICAA, the Interclub, National Seniors and the NCAA and UAAP. The BAP’s failure to put up a well-prepared team further dampened hopes of replicating the country’s 1973 success. Jacobs understood that the key to regaining the ABC title was to have a program that would prepare the national team for a long period. He had two years. And on January 4, 1986, the Philippines was able to reclaim the title, “best team in Asia,” designating them as one of two representatives from Asia to play in the 1986 FIBA World Basketball Championship in Spain.
But what if the FIBA already allowed pros to play in international tournaments that time? Who would have been part of the final 12-man roster?
The Rivalry tries to read the mind of Jacobs if he had the opportunity of suiting up pros in the national team. Let’s list them down by rationalizing Jacobs’ first eight choices.
Described by Jacobs as the best player in the Philippines, Fernandez “makes the right moves, he can pass, he can shoot, he can defend, he’s a strong rebounder.” At that time, Fernandez was Beer Hausen’s franchise player and would lead the Brewmasters to a runner-up finish in the Second All-Filipino Conference later that year. He would win the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award after averaging a scintillating 27.8 ppg, 11.2 rpg and 9.9 apg for the entire season. Any national team without Fernandez that time would have been an aberration.
King was a young 19-year old when he joined Toyota in the PBA in 1977. But age didn’t have an adverse effect on Coach Dante Silverio’s decision to put King in the starting lineup alongside Fernandez, Jaworski, Arnaiz and Ompong Segura. King once exploded for 60 points in a game against archrivals Crispa, proving that he was not just a player known for his defense. By 1982, King was already one of the league’s bonafide superstars, cracking the prestigious Mythical 5 and was now one of the best big men in the PBA. A few days before Toyota was sold to Basic Holdings, Inc., King, who was a free agent already, signed a contract to play for Gold Eagle Beer of San Miguel Corporation. King was specifically asked for by Coach Nat Canson to serve as the team’s franchise player. Contrary to what many believe, it was King, not Fernandez, who became the first franchise player of the PBA. With his blue-collar work ethic, tenacious rebounding and superior defensive skills, Jacobs fully understood what King’s role would be against China, South Korea and Japan.
The sweet-shooting Bogs Adornado suffered a near career-ending knee injury in 1976 and was only able to return in 1978. After a year, he was shipped to the U/Tex Wranglers where he was fully utilized by Coach Tommy Manotoc. He ultimately won his third MVP crown in 1981, the first PBA player to accomplish this feat. But it was his partnership with Ricardo Brown at Great Taste that made the Coffeemakers an elite team. The two were the league’s greatest offensive duo, averaging close to 50 points per game. While Adornado was known for his deadly accuracy within 18 feet, he reinvented his game by including the 3-point shot as a primary weapon of his game. Bogs, who has been playing for the national team since 1970, was still regarded as the greatest shotmaker of the league, bar none.
It’s not a surprise Jacobs selected Brown as he was the first coach to handle the Quick Brown Fox when he first came to the Philippines in 1980. The two partnered in leading the Philippines to the 1981 Jones Cup crown, with Brown cracking the Mythical Team. Ultimately, Brown turned pro and suited up for Great Taste in a solid partnership with Adornado. The 5’11 Fil-Am from Pepperdine University practically changed the professional game, especially in the point guard position when he became one of the most prolific court generals in league history. Brown was not just a cerebral player, he was uncannily accurate from anywhere within 22 feet. He would have run rings around the likes of Wang Fei, Gong Luming and Adiljan of China and Lee Chung Hee and Hur Jae of South Korea, a testament to his NBA caliber where he was a third round pick of the Houston Rockets in the 1979 draft.
Arnaiz would have been an even greater player had he committed himself more to the game. A true natural talent with an incredible ability of scoring from afar with the capability of slashing the paint and come up with teardrop layups beyond the reach of opposing team’s big man, the Ateneo hotshot was a spectacle to watch. More importantly, Jacobs fully appreciated Mr. Clutch’s high basketball IQ who could play either guard positions. The American coach understood the importance of the three-point shot as the ideal equalizer against taller opponents and Arnaiz’s pinpoint accuracy fits the system like glove to hand.
He may only be 6’2 tall but Cezar was perhaps the only player at that time who can play big or small, depending on need. His long limbs, perfect timing, and perhaps the highest basketball IQ in PBA history made him a defensive nightmare against the leading offensive players of the opposing team. Cezar, like King, was used to guarding bigger and bulkier imports in the PBA so being intimidated was the last thing to happen. At the same time, Cezar was also tapped to guard quicker, smaller players, including imports in the Reinforced Conference, a testament to Cezar’s defensive skill set. Jacobs would have loved using Cezar to defend against the likes of 6’7 Wang Libin or the 5’11 Lee Chung Hee or the 6’1 Gong Luming and barnacle them.
A late bloomer, Abet Guidaben was a gangling 6’5 center who wasn’t even part of Crispa’s pioneer starting lineup. But the Camiguin native persevered in improving his game, earning for himself his first of two MVP titles in 1983, leading Crispa to a Grand Slam triumph. Guidaben was the toast of the league when People’s Journal conducted the Jacobs’ interview, and it would have been awkward not to see Guidaben’s name in the list. Known for his accurate midrange jumpers from the elbows, Guidaben was also one of the tallest local players that time and had the body to defend against taller and beefier opponents. He was a perfect slotman as Jacobs would have used him facing the basket instead of posting up, giving the national team more versatility.
While the Big J may have been 38 years old already by this time and was coming off his longest injury layoff in the PBA, there was no doubt the Big J was still one of the league’s best players. Jaworski was also the PBA’s leading three-point shooter, having been one of the first in the league to use the trey as an offensive weapon. More than that, Jaworski was the perfect extension of Jacobs inside the court – he could lead the team, communicate what Jacobs wanted to happen, and perfectly capable of executing the plays mapped out, plus more. Jaworski’s elite playmaking skills would have allowed Jacobs more offensive plays given the Big J’s ability to find the open man with his eyes closed. While Jacobs disdained players who took several risks, he wouldn’t mind putting a dose of the Filipino brand of basketball that Jaworski was noted for.
THE REMAINING FOUR
So those were the eight players named by Jacobs. Who would Jacobs have chosen for the remaining 4 slots? Here’s The Rivalry’s educated guesses (note that Arthur “Chip” Engelland was still ineligible to play for the national team until the end of 1986):
While Fernandez, Guidaben, King and Cezar would have fortified the team’s interior, the Philippines would still have to contend with the hulking players from China like Song Ligang, Wang Libin, Zhang Bin and Sun Feng Wu – all of whom stood 6’5 and above. Still was the perfect interior defender and didn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective. He’s an elite defensive operator inside the paint and knew how to box out or cut the angles from an opposing player’s position. Most of all, he was well-built and capable of pushing the lanky Chinese bigs with ease. Still would have jumpstarted the team’s transition game through his solid boardwork inside the paint.
Jacobs’ do-it-all 6’3 forward had been with Jacobs for the longest time, alongside Still. The two naturalized players were part of the first batch of the NCC Training Team in 1981 and were eventually retained to become fully naturalized players. Moore was the team’s best two-way player – he could score in bunches inside while being capable of defending the best offensive weapon of the other team. Moore’s athleticism was his calling card – his ability to leap high for a rebound or a block made him perhaps Jacobs’ most important player. There’s a reason why Jacobs played Moore the most from his roster – averaging close to 32 minutes per game – and this wasn’t expected to change even with a lineup made up of PBA players.
NCC’s most gifted outside scorer not named Chip Engelland. But in just a year or two, Caidic’s game further blossomed under Jacobs’ tutelage, knowing where to pick his spots from the assortment of Jacobs’ screens and picks. Caidic was tireless when looking for the open shot, using the various picks given to him by his teammates to free himself open for a three-point shot from top of the key or from the flanks. The Triggerman’s incredible accuracy sowed terror in the eyes of the opponents, his jersey number often being called out by defenders when trying to help guard him. At the same time, Caidic’s fiery offensive shooting was capable of energizing his teammates, giving them the momentum to jumpstart a fiery offensive attack.
Avelino Lim, Jr.
NCC’s most exciting player with his ability to fly high, stay in the air, and make a difficult basket all in one play. Jacobs was so enamored with Lim that despite the Skywalker being a defensive liability, the coach would design specific plays to mitigate Lim’s weakness by funneling his man to Moore and Still to help Lim out. But what mattered most was Lim’s offensive versatility – he was difficult to guard because he had the quickness to leave his man one-on-one for an easy lay-in or shoot from beyond the arc if his defender gives him space to protect the incursion. It also helped that Lim was clutch personified, which led to Jacobs trusting him with the ball with the game on the line.
JUST MISSED THE CUT
It was hard not to include “The Director” in the 12-man lineup but with a roster that had seasoned point guards like Brown, Arnaiz and Jaworski, Calma would have become expendable. While Jacobs has always pointed out that he wouldn’t have been successful with the national team without Calma there, the presence of three court generals from the PBA who are all leaders made it logical to give up Calma. Jacobs was known to pack his roster with at least three point guards, just in case one gets injured or in foul trouble. We saw that in the 1982 Asian Youth that had Calma, Derick Pumaren and Leo Austria. In the 1986 ABC, he had Calma, Franz Pumaren and Pido Jarencio. The likelihood is that the third point guard would not get much floor burn, but in this case, Jacobs giving equal minutes to Jaworski, Brown and Arnaiz at the point would not hurt him much.
Fortunato Co, Jr.
Why would Jacobs leave out someone like Atoy Co? In the same interview, Jacobs pointed out that “Co is a steady, reliable player, but I would prefer Brown.” Jacobs added that he felt Co was not being utilized properly, citing, “Co would have been a greater threat on offense than on defense.” It was a subtle criticism of Manotoc’s handling of the Fortune Cookie at Crispa. But would Jacobs have preferred Caidic or Lim over Co? The Rivalry believes so, given that the younger players were Jacobs’ boys who were not only loyal to him, but equally coachable. And given his familiarity with the two, coupled with them being younger, Caidic and Lim would have been more ideal fits in Jacobs’ system than Co, without disparaging the latter’s incredible offensive skill set.
WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED
There’s no doubt this team would make it to the 1986 World Championship in Madrid, Spain. What would be interesting is to find out how far Jacobs would have steered this team in the world stage.
The likelihood is that this team would have been in the same bracket that China occupied (China took over the Philippines as Asia’s top seed). Countries in the bracket would have been the United States, West Germany, Puerto Rico, Ivory Coast and Italy. To enter the next round, the Philippines would have needed to beat three of their five rivals. There’s no doubt this team would have placed second in their bracket, with only the United States, led by David Robinson, capable of beating the Philippines. Carrying over a 4-1 card into the next round, the nationals would probably have matched up against Argentina but lost to Canada and Yugoslavia to end up placing fourth in Group 2 of the semifinal round. As such, the team would have ended up in the fifth to eighth place classification round, where it would most likely have faced Spain in the first classification game. Spain would probably have won the game, relegating the Philippines to a battle for seventh place against Israel, which they would have likely beaten.