Coach Aric Del Rosario was brutal.
Old school simple brutality. The legendary UST Golden Tigers coach was not a coach made for the weak of heart or the onion-skinned. His practices would drain his players’ sweat glands and making them always wish they had more rest days.
On-court, Coach Aric was fiery. Players who botched defensive assignments and allowed uncontested jumpers would get an eardrum-shattering “ANO YAN?” From him which haunted them in your nightmares.
His plays swiftly changed depending on the strengths and weaknesses of their opponent’s five on the floor. A master of the art of basketball chess games, his shuffling of men depended on either what he wanted them to execute or who he wanted to shut down.
Take for example La Salle’s Mark Clemence Telan and flip through the pages of faded 1994 UAAP statistics sheets to see just how many three’s coach Aric allowed the Green Archer center to take. Just like how all NBA teams defend 76ers point guard Ben Simmons by sagging way down as if mocking him to take that jumper, that was how UST, on instructions of coach Aric, played La Salle’s Jason Webb.
Aside from being way ahead of his time in practicing social distancing on the court against bad shooters, Coach Aric knew that the best way to mess with an erratic shooters’ touch is through his mind.
But this was expected. To understand this, we take a rewind in history and go back to Coach Aric’s wonder years.
ARIC DEL ROSARIO AND THE 1964 UST CHAMPION TEAM
The young Aric Del Rosario grew up in the late 50s and early 60s era of basketball, a time when breaking an opponent’s leg was just part of the game. Heck, Baby Dalupan’s drills up to the 70s had 10 buckets of water placed underneath the basket to teach his MICAA Crispa Redmanizers how to elude the “sahod”.
So concentrated were the coaches on these drills that landing softly was as a priority as free-throw shooting drills.
The young gunner from Pampanga was not a stranger to this. Sharp elbows to the jaws and defensive tackles were common parts of every play. But this is where UST’s and Coach Del Rosario’s history intertwined.
Aric was a Glowing Goldie in that historic 1964 UAAP champion team. Together with Hector Hipolito, Rene Hawkins Sr., Roberto Salonga Manuel Tan and Ceferino dela Paz and coached by The Big Difference, Caloy Loyzaga, UST fought to the last minute against Danny Gavieres and his FEU Tamaraws to win an epic 71-68 at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum. (Remember the name Hector Hipolito as this will become relevant in the later years)
Historian Jose Maria Escoda described the game in his book “Basketball History” as the most exhilarating game in post-war history. Why exhilarating? Because Aric’s team ran and ran to break down their opponent.
They ran because they were in better shape and this is where the disciple of the principle of being in shape came in.
ENTER ARIC THE TIGER COACH – THE MAKING OF THE UST GROWLING TIGERS DYNASTY
UST was in UAAP basketball purgatory. They were always good enough to be contending but never great enough to win a title. For a great 29 years, UST was title-less.
The Glowing Goldies were the first team to put up their twin-towers, Gido Babilonia and Rabbi Tomacruz, but to no avail.
The Glowing Goldies came so close to winning a championship when the rapid-firing Pido Jarencio dueled with UE’s Allan Caidic in the classic 1985 title showdown where the Red Warriors prevailed. Jarencio and Caidic piled up more than 80 combined points together in that classic showdown.
And their coach, Aric Del Rosario.
Then it was all streaming along for the Glowing Goldies. Coach Aric got replaced by coaches who couldn’t hold on to the position for longer than a year..
That was until 1993 when they were looking for the guy who would lead the massive rebuild. And when the need for a coach came up, the UST higher-ups decided to go with their former champion, the one who brought them to their last finals appearance in 1985, the then 53-year old Aric Del Rosario.
To take over the UST program, coach Aric’s condition was simple – total control. “Ang usapan namin three years, walang makikialam. Pag hindi ko napa champion, palitan nila ako after that”, Del Rosario said.
UST could literally feel Aric’s presence every practice because of the amount of yelling inside the old UST Gym. There was no buttering up on veterans and no kid’s gloves for rookies as the returning coach immediately went to work whipping his players into tip-top shape with his razor-sharp words.
Coach Aric was no doubt fiery.
His tongue spewed flames to the point it became infectious. UST entered the 1993 season blazing opponents to the ground. The team that had Udoy Belmonte, Dennis Espino, Patrick Fran, Bal David, Rey Evangelista, Edmund Reyes, Siot Tanquincen and Chris Cantonjos just run down their opponents with every transition basket.
The Golden Tigers made the Ateneo Blue Eagles their opening day feast via 93-66 merciless murder of the Katipunan boys. And when everyone thought the 1993 DLSU Green Archers had a shot, they added them to their kill-list with a double-digit win 80-70. They eventually swept the first round with an average margin of 14 points and ventured into a more dominating second round blasting all UAAP teams out of the water.
Until there was one.
UST was rip-roaring with a 13-0 slate with the Adamson Falcons standing between them and the end of their 29-year title drought.
Adamson constructed the tallest towers in the UAAP with 7’1 EJ Feihl at the post and scoring machine Kenneth Duremdes at forward while manning the bench was his old team mate in 1964 UST champion squad, Hector Hipolito.
In these moments when consistent coaching paid off. UST ran and ran and ran more. Loads of baskets off transition by Udoy Belmonte, Bal David, Siot Tanquincen and Patrick Fran wore down the Falcons in front of 20,000 broom-holding, yellow clad shrieking fans at the Big Dome.
While the Golden Tigers guards were running, Dennis Espino, Edmund Reyes and Rey Evangelista took turns negating the 7’1 Ej Feihl. Quick shots on the run were always a good solution against beanpoles that were slow and Espino, Reyes and Evangelista did just that.
With less than one minute to go, a transition pull-up runner by Belmonte pushed the lead to seven and Espino finger-rolled the title clinching insurance twinner and thus completing the title-run via 14-game sweep.
UST celebrated their first championship in the UST grounds and during the celebration, Coach Aric Del Rosario described his feeling as,“masaya. Pero tapos na yan. Sunod na season naman.”
What made Coach Aric great? Was it the X and O’s? Probably not. As Mico Halili mentioned in his podcast FTW, this legendary coach was more situational than structured. He played his players according to their strong points and allowed them to operate.
But more than that, Coach Aric was already looking into the future and already reloading his roster preparing for a dynasty.
HOW COACH ARIC MADE THE GREEN ARCHERS HIS TOY
Coach Aric del Rosario is loved by EVERYONE in UST. But take one jeep across town to Taft Avenue in the mid- 90s and everyone there abhors the multi-titled coach.
It was because the UST Tigers dominated the DLSU Green Archers in the next three years. They fire-etched La Salle their bridesmaid tag, a tag that haunts them to the present.
In 1994, La Salle was at the cusp of grabbing their 3rd UAAP title after winning 77-74 in game 1 and UST negated that momentum by winning game 2. And in that epic moment in Game 3, the Green Archers had a shot on that title.
With less than 10 seconds to go and a hairline lead at 77-76 after Bal David’s lead-giving freethrow, the greens had the basketball. Streaking downcourt, La Salle missed on a rushed mid-range leaner by Mark Telan but left a few ticks on the clock. La Salle Fil-Am Elmer Lago leaped high for the uncontested tip-in but choked twice in his putback effort preserving the win for the Tigers at the Cuneta Astrodome.
In the middle of the frenzy “hey-yo” cheer of UST, coach kept repeating “madasalin akong tao” as the miraculous reason why there were three down-the-wire open point-blank misses by La Salle as he swore that there was an “intervention” why the ball did not bounce La Salle’s way.
UST did it again in 1995 and once more in 1996 with a constant reload of players that saw Bal David passing the torch to Dale Singson and the three-point gun from Henry Ong to Gerald Fransisco. A textbook story of how to build a dynasty.
But it was not just the dynasty why La Salle disliked Coach Aric del Rosario. It was really about how it was done. The fiery coach would constantly work the referees for every missed call and endlessly yell on court.
It was also Coach Aric’s coaching smarts that really got the greens grinding their teeth. In key championship games, Coach Aric would call for time with a few seconds left before halftime. He would design plays just right to pump up the UST crowd. regardless if UST was up by 10 or down by 8.
Time and again, the speedy guards would get the ball from the top and immediately fake a drive just to kick it out to a shooter who would drain the half-ending trey. Henry Ong shredded La Salle endlessly and at one time sank a deep triple near the logo sending the UST crowd in a cheering frenzy providing them momentum coming into the final half.
For most DLSU and rival UAAP teams, the sight of Coach Aric del Rosario sparked fear. Who could forget the time when the UST coach was airlifted from Pampanga after a game in the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) to the UAAP venue that silenced the opposing crowd?
While Aric waved at the appreciative yellow crowd, the other side shook in fear in collective silent figurative soiling themselves..
Coach Aric eventually left UST after the 2003 season chalking up 98 wins in 158 games for a winning clip of 64.5%, the best record in the Final Four era of any Growling Tigers coach in the UAAP.
THE SUCCESSFUL YEARS AND THE UNEXPECTED GOODBYE
Coach Aric eventually won his professional championship in the maiden season of the defunct MBA leading the Pampanga Dragons over the Manila Metro Stars. Del Rosario also served as a long time assistant to Tim Cone in Alaska while winning their grand slam.
In his final coaching years, he would take over a confused and flagging Perpetual Help basketball program together with his son, Lester. At this juncture, Perpetual needed more than just a good coach to win a title.
At age 80, he succumbed to heart failure leaving a hole in the hearts of those who have been in the bittersweet end of his words and the warmth of his friendship and fatherly guidance outside of the court.
“Mabait si Tatay Aric sa labas” lamented Chris Cantonjos in his interview with gameplan.com.ph as he described the late coach as one whose influence did not end on court. And as his players recalled the impact Coach Aric del Rosario had on their lives, one common thing stood out. “Magaling siya mag motivate,” and he provided space for his players to grow in an unstructured system in order to build on their strengths.
Like the tiger-moms who raise their children through tough love and discipline, by putting his players through the fire that molded their hearts, coach Aric deepened their passion for the game and created a tunnel vision for winning. A team-oriented winning.
With this he shaped the many lives most of them have played professional ball long after their time with Coach Aric Del Rosario.
From the HumbleBola team, our salute to the fiery coach who has burned his mark on every basketball lovers’ heart. You will never be forgotten.