It was on uneven pavement where people first saw he was special. Between jagged lines painted on the ground, tufts of grass sticking out between the cracks, Simon Camacho was just another Adamsonian playing in the 2014 Recognized Student Organization sports festival. On the front of his jersey, before it was “Adamson”, was the name of the student organization “PSAU” Physics Society of Adamson University. Even then he had the makings of a captain he turned out to be in his final year in the UAAP.
“He was a cut above the rest,” described a fellow Adamsonian, a fellow RSO athlete that had shared the court with Simon on multiple occasions. “He wasn’t ‘the guy’ on that team,” added Adrian Paulo Perocho a now Adamson engineering alumnus who saw what Simon was like in his early days. “He was getting points from drop passes and offensive boards,” he added.
It was in Season 78 that Simon Camacho first stepped onto a UAAP court. Back then the Soaring Falcons were coming off their absolute worst season, hitting rock bottom by igniting a bonfire for UP. Their previous coach was sacked in the off season and coach Mike Fermin was thrust into the spotlight of head coaching duties, tasked with, if not rebuilding, keeping the team together, at least until they knew where to go.
Simon was among the new names that year. That was the first year he played alongside the likes of Papi Sarr, Dawn Ochea, Nico Capote, Jerome Garcia among others. It was a huge change of scenery for him, instead of crashing boards that ricocheted off the loose backboards of the Ozanam Carpark, he was practicing in the hardwood floor of the Saint Vincent Gym, chasing rebounds against the likes of Alfred Aroga in MoA Arena and Araneta Coliseum.
His first year in the league was nothing to write home about. He did okay. He averaged 4 minutes a game behind other bigs like Ivan Villanueva, Cris Garcia and Kristian Bernardo. At the most, Simon was there to grab a rebound or two. Much like the team at the time, all he could do was try.
“His jump in skill level in the matter of a year was insane,” recalled Adrian, whose engineering RSO team played against Simon’s again in 2015. The then reigning sportsfest MVP had a few additions to his bag of tricks. “More than just grabbing the rebound, he was bringing up the ball himself. There was one time that one of my teammates tried to steal the ball from him, but instead, Simon pulled out a sick spin move, much to the amusement of the crowd.”
The second season of Simon in the UAAP was an even bigger struggle. Coach Franz Pumaren came on board with the Soaring Falcons in Season 79, with him was a list of highly touted recruits and transferees. Jerrick Ahanmisi, Robbie Manalang, Sean Manganti, Jonathan Espeleta and Terrence Mustre infused the Soaring Falcons with much needed talent. Unlike the new recruits, Simon didn’t have a glamorous history of playing in high school varsity. Those games in the RSO Sportsfest were his only formal basketball experience, the rest, knowledge picked up from the street.
As Simon and coach Franz would tell the story, he almost didn’t make the cut that year. What impressed coach Franz was simply Simon’s relentlessness. He was, as some would put it, a motor guy, someone whose main asset was the fact that he didn’t know when to stop.
His refusal to stop improving paid off both for him and for coach Franz in Season 81. From being just a rebound guy, Simon started making contributions on both ends of the floor. He averaged 5.2 points off put backs, drop offs and dare shots. His biggest contribution was the team high 1.4 blocks he gave. On 19.9 minutes per game, Simon’s role was starting to grow, but it was mainly to back up the emerging Sean Manganti. By playing his role, he helped the Soaring Falcons reach their dream Season 81 which ended in a nightmare, one that he had experienced before.
“The covered courts were already built by then. Our team lost a game we shouldn’t have and so we were the lower seed against Simon’s team,” reminisced Adrian about their second encounter. “They had a twice-to-beat advantage, we beat them twice.”
Simon didn’t make it back for their rematch because the year after he joined the Adamson Soaring Falcons. But even then, he had made his mark on classmates like Adrian who shared a special fondness of him whenever they saw him on the UAAP floor.
“Honestly, I treat him like the other players. I get upset if he has turnovers. Medyo exaggerated siguro celebration if he has a crucial play. Yung tipong ‘My boy, Camacho’.”
With the departure of Sean Manganti, the captain’s hat was passed on to Simon. Like Sean, Simon was hard at work to fill in that role, learning to take more shots in the off season, even expanding his range to the three point line. But it became painfully obvious in the start of Season 82 that Simon was simply not the same kind of player as his predecessor.
Right at the start of the season, Simon was at the wrong end of multiple blocks by Ferdinand Ravena III and Angelo Kouame. It was a trend that continued for the most part of the season. Simon, trying his best to bear the burdens of the team, would bite off more than he could chew.
It took the game against NU in the second round for Falcons fans to finally see the Simon Camacho that they had hoped for. Instead of trying to create, Simon focused on finishing, and it worked wonders, allowing the Falcons to finally break away from the Bulldogs in the 4th quarter.
By focusing on his role again, Simon gave himself the space he needed to once again be an asset to the team. He was part of the 3rd quarter run that saw the Falcons lead by double digits against UP. He was starting to figure things out, at one point embarrassing the once high school superstar Kobe Paras with a fake before the layup.
Unfortunately, the Soaring Falcons’ run in Season 82 has been cut short, being mathematically eliminated after a tough loss to FEU. Simon Camacho will be ending his 5-year UAAP stint the same way he started, out of Final Four contention. Yet something tells me, Simon wouldn’t have traded this experience for anything.
As Adrian put it, “Anyone that plays basketball has that secondary dream of making it to the pros. After watching the Season 74 Final Four, there was something in me that wanted to play in that kind of atmosphere. He [Simon] got to live it out. Who would have thought that an ordinary student would get to play in the UAAP and even get decent minutes to boot?”
Suffice to say, Simon Camacho lived the dream that every Adamsonian or any college student who is into basketball has. To stand between solid painted lines on a pristine hardwood floor, in between fiberglass backboards, underneath the spotlight in front of a roaring crowd of tens of thousands. He made it, and his klasmeyts couldn’t be happier and prouder of him.