Before there was the Five-Peat, there was the Back-to-Back, and the cogs of that glittering achievement were feted by Ateneo last Saturday.
Four of the Blue Eagles who keyed Ateneo's UAAP Seniors Basketball championships of 1987 and 1988 were welcomed into the Ateneo Sports Hall of Fame during ceremonies at the Leung Auditorium in the school.
Olsen Racela, Jun Reyes, Eric Reyes, and Danny Francisco joined six other Ateneo sports legends in the Hall, which according to emcee Sev Sarmenta has 178 members.
The list, which can be viewed in the Moro Lorenzo Sports Center, includes such Blue and White luminaries like Lorenzo, Baby Dalupan, Joe Cantada, Francis Arnaiz, Ed Ocampo, Fritz Gaston, Dick Gordon, Tiny Literal, and James Reuter, S.J.
The ASHOF board has elected great Ateneo sportsmen into the Hall every three years since the first ceremony in 1979. Candidates must wait twenty years after graduation before they can be considered for membership.
Racela was a fiery yet cerebral point guard who gave important minutes during the consecutive championships. Racela blossomed even more as a pro, winning nine PBA titles in a long and fruitful career with Purefoods and San Miguel, where he made All-Star five times. Racela also played for the national team that came just short of the Gold medal game in the 2002 Busan Asian Games.
Like Racela Jun Reyes was a point guard who soared to even greater heights in his collegiate career, becoming a UAAP MVP. He is best-known for the game-winning layup over three defenders that sealed the second round for Ateneo in the 1988 championship run. He parlayed his skills and smarts into an 11-year PBA career and coached the Eaglets to two UAAP juniors titles.
Eric Reyes (no relation) was a defensive specialist at the power forward position for Ateneo who also thrived in the PBA for a decade, with stints in Swift, Sunkist, and Mobiline.
Danny Francisco was the key to the Ateneo juniors' 14-game sweep in 1986. As a Blue Eagle the 6'6" center gave opponents fits in the 1987 season, and in one championship win over La Salle he brought down 25 rebounds. A congenital heart ailment ended his hoops career early and he never played a minute in the PBA.
Francisco appeared to get emotional as he received his plaque and medal. He admitted afterwards that he recently lost his mother and that he thought of her while being awarded.
With the four ballers, Ateneo now has enshrined eight players from the '87 and '88 teams. The Class of '12 join Nonoy Chuatico, Jet Nieto, Joseph Canlas, and Alex Araneta in the Hall.
Joining the cagers in the Class of '12 were NCAA Track and Field greats from the '70s Jun Gonzales and Antonio Cuyegkeng, as well as Volleyball stars from that same era, Piquillo Enage, Andy Nanagas, and Eddie Apacible.
Enage, Nanagas, and Apacible were part of the "Golden Age" of Ateneo Men's Volleyball, when they dominated the NCAA competitions and even won national titles.
Their coach, Agapito Custodio, is also part of the Class of '12. The only non-Atenean in the class tragically succumbed to cancer last November 10 at the age of 81. A moment of silence was offered in remembrance of Custodio, who also won titles as coach of the Women's and Junior teams. Nine of Custodio's charges are in the Hall.
Cuyegkeng delivered a short speech on behalf of his Hall classmates. The middle distance runner who carried the Olympic torch in the run-up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games gave tribute to the teammates, coaches, and supporters who made their feats possible.
"An Atenean never competes alone" he said.
The sentiment was echoed by university president Fr. Jett Villarin, who addressed the sporting heroes by intoning "you are stars surrounded by a constellation of generosity."
Members of the current Ateneo UAAP seniors Basketball championship team, including Kiefer Ravena, Nico Elorde, Tonino Gonzaga and Juami Tiongson were also on hand. They were recognized by the Hall and had pictures taken with the '87-'88 inductees as well as members of Ateneo's back-to-back NCAA title-winning squads from the '70s.
ASHOF also paid tribute to Mario "Babes" Oreta and Frederick "Deck" Go. The two were conferred the Ateneo Sports Citation for their help in boosting the Badminton program.
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