Llanes: Gerry and coach baby

LAST week saw our basketball crazed nation losing its "Maestro", Coach Virgilio Baby Dalupan to the great coach of the universe.

Who would ever forget the Dalupan mentored Crispa vs. Silverio led Toyota rivalry in the start of the Philippine Basketball in the seventies with me as a diehard fan of the latter.

Still, fact is fact, Coach Baby Dalupan is still the country’s winningest coach with a career total of 52 championship crowns under his belt.

But did you know that Benguet Electric Cooperatives General Manager Gerardo "Gerry" Versoza played and even became co-captain of the Ateneo Blue Eagles which Coach Baby mentored and actually gave him several championships?

After playing high school basketball at Saint Louis University, Senior Gerry, as we often fondly call each other, trooped to Ateneo to pursue his college degree to which, upon looking at some P.E. classes at the Loyola, he saw a notice for basketball tryouts.

The following are excerpts of from the blog site bleachersbrew.blogsports.com of Senior Gerry and his encounter with the great "Maestro".

The Blue Eagles, on the other hand, were a potent mix of seniors (co-captains Gerry Versoza and Max Estrada), a smattering of talented sophomores (Fritz Gaston, Joy Carpio, Chito Narvasa, Pons Valdez, Maling Estrella) who now had a year of collegiate ball experience under their belts, and four exciting rookies (Steve Watson, Padim Israel, Louie Rabat, and Johnny Perlas).

Padim Israel on the other hand, was a legend in the playgrounds of the Ateneo. “Nababalitaan namin yung Padim Israel, hari ng IAC,” recalled Gerry Versoza who himself was a walk-in from St. Louis University in Baguio.

u201cMatunog na matunog yung pangalan niya, so Coach Baby invited him. Kung napapanood mo si Tayshaun Prince of the (NBA’s Detroit) Pistons now, ganun si Padim noon.” With a wingspan of a pterodactyl, Padim was a defensive specialist who was known for his nifty stretch lay-ups and bank shots.

Versoza, who was the anointed King Eagle of that year, found kindred spirits in Gaston and Carpio.

u201cI was from St. Louis University in Baguio and I didn’t know anyone in Ateneo. I passed the Acet and was thinking of a quiet life as a student. While I played high school ball in Baguio, I never thought I’d play for the Blue Eagles. While looking at some PE classes at Loyola Center (Blue Eagle Gym today for all you Gen Y’ers), I saw a notice about the basketball tryouts. I was just glad I made the team,” Versoza said.

Letran’s hallmark has always been its rugged defense and the Freddie Webb-mentored squad knew that the only way they could keep pace with the Hail Mary Squad was to bludgeon the Blue Eagles during their incursions in the lane. Despite being foul–plagued, the Knights remained within striking distance and were down 48-44 during the half.

The ugly ball continued during the early second half where the teams continued to rack up fouls like it was going out of style. “Man, that was one ugly game,” winced Watson as if he could still feel those chops and hacks he received all those years ago.

A total of 73 fouls were called during that game, a dubious record if there was ever one, but Ateneo made Letran pay for its roughhousing tactics by converting on 72 percent of its freebies as opposed to their opponents’ 58 percent conversion from the stripe.

With less than 10 minutes in the game and Letran threatening at 69-68, Watson, Versoza and Mistades blew the Muralla-based squad of Abe Monzon, Alex Marquez (who would later transfer to La Salle), and Vicente Beso away with a crippling 26-point end-game explosion that saw Ateneo notch its first win, 95-84.

Despite the 1-0, Dalupan was unhappy about the way his wards played against the Knights’ brand of basketbrawl so he threw them into three brutal practices that had the well-conditioned Blue Eagles panting for breath. “Coach wanted us to stay with our offense no matter what,” explained Versoza.

u201cThere’s playing basketball… and playing basketball the right way,” thundered Dalupan. “We didn’t come here to be hooligans. We came here as Ateneans.”

To quote Senior Gerry on his life changing experience under Coach Baby, Senior Gerry says, "The late Coach Baby D was a disciplinarian who gave his players equal treatment. Kung maganda ang laro mo sa practice sessions, makakaasa ka ng playing time next game."

Versoza adds, "In our team then at the Ateneo, he did not have a constant first five kasi yung combination niya ay depende sa kalaban. Marami siyang surprise moves and he was very smart in matching his players vs. the opposing team.”

"Hindi pwede kay Coach Baby ang malambot, dapat matibay ang loob mo sa laro. May his soul rest in peace," Senior Gerry adds.

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