For our annual July UAAP feature back in 2011, we trooped to the National University campus in Sampaloc to talk to the people behind the Bulldog’s expected resurgence in collegiate hoops. The wealthy Sy family, owners of the SM Group of Companies, had bought the school a year before. Super rookie Bobby Ray Parks had just arrived in the Philippines—and was kind enough to let us into his home to talk about the hype surrounding him. Head coach Eric Altamirano was as shy as he has been all throughout UAAP Season 77, but the pressure to win (and to win quickly) was apparent in his demeanor.
It would take three more years for the group to achieve the goal they were brought together for, but as we’ve seen from the crying alumni inside the Araneta Coliseum yesterday to Joey De Leon’s proud pronouncements of his NU roots (the Henyo Master and FHM Hero studied Architecture for a time there) on-air during Eat Bulaga! a day after the Bulldogs title-clinching Game 3 victory over the FEU Tamaraws, the wait was obviously worth it.
After 60 long years, the NU Bulldogs are atop anew the UAAP Basketball throne. Below is the story of how that program, the players, and the system that won them their historic championship were brought together.
IT IS LATE MAY 2011 and the National University Bulldogs have just been defeated in overtime, 81-74, by fellow UAAP member De La Salle Green Archers. The loss ends the Bulldogs’ bid to advance to the quarterfinals of the FilOil Flying V Pre-Season Hanes Premier Cup, the annual precursor to the UAAP and National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournaments.
Yet despite the defeat, NU Head Coach Eric Altamirano sure looks content. “We lost to a good team,” he would later tell inboundpass.com. “We’re very tired. We had 18 [practice] sessions in just 10 days, plus two Fr. Martin Summer Cup games. But no excuses.” He stops short of pointing out that despite his team’s hectic schedule, they were able to come back from a 19-point second quarter deficit, take the lead with about three minutes to play in the final quarter and almost win the game with the last shot in regulation.
Prior to this loss, NU had won over UST, Arellano University, Lyceum of the Philippines and defending NCAA champions San Beda College. There were other losses, sure, but they were merely roadblocks to what many basketball pundits believe to be the imminent glory of the NU Bulldogs. Glory does not become NU. That is not a put-down; it’s a fact backed up by 57 years of losing.
The National University is a founding member of the UAAP, established in 1938, and Pinoy sports history notes that it was part of the big three in the league—with UST and UP. And yet NU has only won once in the league—in 1954. UST has 18 championships; UP at least has two, the latest in 1986. Worse, the Bulldogs were either last or just a step above it in the standings in 18 of the last 23 seasons, most of which ended in winless or one-win records. Most of these losses were so lopsided that other UAAP teams soon came up with the mantra: “Matalo ka na sa lahat, wag lang sa NU.”
But that was then.
This year’s Bulldogs are nothing short of title favorites. They are expected to steamroll through the opposition and win games in such spectacular fashion that the collegiate basketball world will have no choice but bestow upon them and their school its due respect.
The Bulldogs' core group back in 2011
How they are going to do this: First, hire a winning coach in Altamirano who, incidentally, is a member of the UP Fighting Maroons ’86, winning MVP honors. Second, coalesce a team composed of wiry veterans and the best recruitment class in recent memory, led by the son of a former PBA seven-time Best Import. Third, financial backing finally pouring in from, of all sources, a mall taipan.
From FHM's July 2011 issue