WE MEET AGAIN
WHEN SEASON 74 OF THE UAAP UNWRAPS THIS JULY, THREE OF THE EIGHT TEAMS WILL HAVE NEW FACES CALLING THE SHOTS. THE UE RED WARRIORS HAVE CALLED UPON ONE OF THEIR BEST PLAYERS OF ALL TIME, JERRY CODIÑERA, TO TRY AND LEAD THEM IN THE POST-PAUL LEE ERA. THE NU BULLDOGS HAVE HIRED VETERAN COACH ERIC ALTAMIRANO TO GUIDE THEIR YOUNG AND PROMISING TEAM. AND THE UP FIGHTING MAROONS HAVE BROUGHT IN FORMER PLAYER AND COACHING LIFER RICKY DANDAN TO RESURRECT THEIR MORIBUND BASKETBALL PROGRAM. Before landing head coaching positions in the country’s most prestigious collegiate league, Codiñera, Altamirano and Dandan all paid their dues and worked their way up the coaching ladder. Even before that, they all shared the same court as fellow players in the UAAP back in the 1980s. Along the way to the here and now, their paths crossed several times in the national team, the PABL, and the PBA. So after all they’ve been through, it seems fitting that they will now compete against each other as head coaches.
We at Rebound thought it would be interesting to look back at the careers of the three, starting from when they were young players in the UAAP. Altamirano and Dandan were teammates in UP for three seasons (1983-85), and one of their most intimidating opponents was Codiñera, the talented center of UE.
The 86 Season and Beyond
The three coaches share many common experiences, including having played for Joe Lipa at one point in their playing careers, but perhaps the most significant event that they were all part of was the 1986 season, which culminated in a championship series between UP and UE.
Dandan wasn’t part of that star-studded UP lineup, having graduated the year before, but he was on the Maroons’ bench as a neophyte assistant. “I was an apprentice back then,” he recalls. “I last played in ’85, so in ’86 Coach Joe took me under his wing.”
He remembers how Altamirano fluidly ran the Maroons’ offense. “Benjie (Paras) was the main scoring threat in the post. Ronnie (Magsanoc) was the main scoring threat in the perimeter. Eric would create situations for them. So that time, from the standpoint of coaching, you could really see the value of Eric.
“Now, if you were UP’s opponent, masakit talaga sa ulo iyong ’86 champion team naiyon because a lot of players could hurt you. UP for the longest time was known as a doughnut team dahil walang gitna. When Benjie arrived, that plugged that big hole in the middle. Then after that, they had Joey Mendoza, Duane Salvaterra, Joey Guanio.”
Such a loaded roster needed the right quarterback, and in Dandan’s mind, Altamirano fit the bill to perfection. “Eric was a catalyst. That team wouldn’t have gone that far without him.”
Codiñera echoes this assessment. “Feeder talaga siya (Altamirano). Mayroong Magsanoc doonna shooter. Point guard talaga siya. He directed play like a coach on the floor. Matagal kaming naging teammate, first sa RP team then sa commercial leagues. Masipag si Eric, very hard worker. Sa training, very detailed siya. He may be slow, pero passfirst siya and shoot later.”
Altamirano credits Dandan with helping his development as a point guard. “I have a lot of respect for Ricky Dandan. Even when we were playing together, he was very heady. I always asked (for) his inputs and advice when I was a rookie. He was the one who guided me when I was just starting in UP.”
Codiñera remembers Dandan as a forward who could shoot and defend. “ Kumpleto din siya,” he noted. Dandan actually played point guard in his early years with UP, but moved to shooting guard and small forward once Altamirano and Magsanoc arrived.
In the days before the Final Four, the top team had a twice-to-beat advantage over the second-place team. UE topped the eliminations with a 13-1 record, while UP was tied with FEU at second with an 11-3 record. The Warriors were gunning for a three-peat that season, and they were led by Codiñera, the consensus top amateur center of the time. He posed a big challenge for UP, with Paras still a rookie and not yet the dominant force he would become in the PBA.
“That was our battle cry, to make sure that Jerry does not beat us,” Altamirano said. “He was the pillar of that UE team. We were just lucky that we beat them in the championship.”
“Jerry was one of the few early big men who played both inside and outside,” Dandan said. “In 1986, he was the center of UE. But Coach Joe, I remember, designed a lot of defensive stunts for Jerry. So medyona-negate iyong advantage ni Jerry inside.”
The Maroons ousted the Tamaraws in a knockout match to make it to the finals. They stunned the Warriors in the first game, 86-75, to set up a winner-takeall Game 2, where the pass-first point guard Altamirano suddenly showed off his offensive skills, scoring a game high 26 points to lead UP to a 98-89 triumph and its first UAAP title in 46 years.
“ Na-twice-to-beat kami at that time,” Codiñera recalls. “They had the nucleus of San Beda. Ang laking trabaho noong kalaban naminangUP.”
A few weeks before the championship series, Altamirano
and Codiñera joined Magsanoc, Alvin Patrimonio, Jojo Lastimosa, Samboy Lim and Allan Caidic on the Lipa-coached national team that bagged a bronze medal in the Seoul Asian Games.
The following year, Altamirano was left off the national team, but Codiñera was retained. On the bench, Lipa brought in Dandan as one of his new assistants. That began a series of instances where Codiñera would play for a team that had Dandan as an assistant.
“Assistant talaga namin iyan,” said Codiñera of Dandan. “ Sa RP team, tapos sa Philips Sardines naging guest player ako. Then sa FedEx sa PBA, magkakasama kami.”
Codiñera and Altamirano both turned pro in 1988. But while the former would go on to have a long, fruitful career, the latter struggled with injuries and only played six seasons.
It was during his playing days, however, that Altamirano would get his first taste of coaching. He was asked to coach the basketball team of the UP College of Mass Communication in the university intramurals, which he did from 1991 to 1992. Two of his players were a cat-quick point guard named Ryan Gregorio and matinee idol Richard Gomez. With Altamirano calling the shots, the CMC team won the intramurals title in 1992. The competition wasn’t exactly overwhelming, and most of the other colleges didn’t even have a head coach, but the experience was beneficial for Altamirano nonetheless.
Like his former teammate, Dandan also got started in the UP intramurals as coach of the ISPEAR (now CHK) team. From the very start he knew he wanted to be a coach, since unlike Altamirano and Codiñera, he wasn’t a pro prospect. “It wasn’t an accident,” Dandan says of his venture into coaching. “Even back then, and Coach Joe knows this, I was always asking him about certain things. I was not a very good athlete. I was a third rung point guard. Then Coach Joe, kita naman niya na masipag ako, hindi ako nag-aabsent sa ensayo, hinanapan niya ako ng posisyon sa team. So I played, one, two, three, and sometimes an extremely undersized four.
“Mostly I was sitting on the bench rather than playing on the floor. That got me thinking of trying to learn the game from a teaching standpoint. And then I started coaching in the (UP) college intramurals. For my practicum in St. Jude in Tandang Sora, I formed their first varsity team there. So tuloy-tuloy na.”
“When Ricky got into coaching,” Altamirano recalls, “I had so much respect for him. I think he’s one of the (most) intelligent coaches that we have in the Philippines.”
Dandan went on to coach the University of St. La Salle in Bacolod for six years, returning to Manila in 1998 to coach the Manila Metrostars in the inaugural season of the Metropolitan Basketball Association. The following year, Lipa was appointed head coach of the Ateneo Blue Eagles, and he brought in Dandan as his chief assistant. After Lipa stepped down in early 2002, Ateneo asked Dandan to stay on as director of the university’s basketball program, a position he held until he was appointed UP coach.
Altamirano actually coached UP as well, albeit much earlier, leading the Maroons to the Final Four in 1996 before accepting the head coaching position of the Purefoods Hotdogs the following year. In his very first conference, Altamirano led the Hotdogs to the All-Filipino Conference crown. His starting center? None other than Codiñera.
It was during this reconnection that Altamirano saw Codiñera’s potential to be a coach. “With Jerry, even when he was playing for me, I knew that he had a knack for coaching because when I was a rookie coach, he helped me a lot. His inputs were very valuable to me. So I knew already then that this guy can be a good coach.”
On the other hand, Codiñera remembers Altamirano as a very strict coach. “ Grabe, talagang drillmaster siya. Detailed coach. He was like… parang barkada lang. But the respect was there, it was mutual. Naging practice player siya, then assistant coach, then head coach. Very professional kami. Kung trabaho, trabaho. Sa
kanya, ganoon din. We won a championship with Coach Eric, then after that we parted ways.”
Both Codiñera and Altamirano eventually left Purefoods. Codiñera was traded to Mobiline for Andy Seigle, and wound down his career with the FedEx Express, which had just appointed Lipa as their new head coach. Naturally, Dandan was there on the bench as an assistant. It would mark the last time they would be on the same team with Codiñera as a player and Dandan as an assistant.
“I was an assistant coach when Jerry played for us in the PBL, the national team and FedEx,” Dandan said. “Jerry was very coachable. Madaling dalhin si Jerry. He’s very smart. Iyong basketball knowledge niya, masyadong malalim talaga. As an assistant coach back then, we really had no problems with him. Madali niyang ma-absorb lahat. He would make coaches look good.
“Thinking big guy siya. Puwedeng-puwedengmag-coach talagasi Jerry. He’s had a lot of experience playing in the pros. He’s a legend in the PBA. So the kids in UE will be very fortunate to have Jerry as their coach.”
Codiñera repays the compliment by describing Dandan as a “cool guy.”
“ Hindi siya masyadong bossy type. Very broadminded, masarap kausap, at makita mo maraming wisdom sa coaching.”
After retiring in 2003, Codiñera finally took the plunge into coaching, starting as assistant to Boysie Zamar on the Philippines’ SEABA team. He also had a stint as an intramural coach with the La Salle Graduate School before coaching TeleTech in the PBL for one conference. Bo Perasol then took him as an assistant with Air21 for two seasons. Then in a curious twist of fate, in 2008, Codiñera somehow found himself on the UP bench as an assistant to Aboy Castro. “It was Chot (Reyes) who advised me. “He said ‘Aboy got the job in UP. You want to help him?’”
Meanwhile, Altamirano moved over to the Mobiline Phone Pals, whom he promptly led to the PBA Centennial Cup. He eventually returned to Purefoods, then joined Jong Uichico on the PBA-backed national team to the Busan Asian Games. After briefly coaching the Coca-Cola Tigers in 2005, Altamirano turned to basketball training, setting up the highly-successful Coach E basketball camp and running the Nokia National Basketball Training Center. Most recently, he coached the Philippine Under-18 team to a fifth-place finish in the FIBA-Asia youth championships.
“ Si Eric, back in the day, you could tell that he was going to be a coach someday,” says Dandan. “He played point guard for our team, and he was not very athletic, but so to speak he was a cerebral basketball player. He’s a proven winner. He’s won a championship in the PBA. He’s coached the junior national team to one of the best finishes in that age group. And he coached UP also, so I don’t think the competition in the UAAP will be strange to Eric.”
Just like Dandan, Altamirano credits his former UP coach with helping shape his coaching career.
“We have to give credit to our coach, Joe Lipa. His philosophy, that’s what we got from him, me and Ricky. Some of the things that we are applying right now came from our former coach.”
Coaching Against Each Other
It’s 2011, 25 years after that memorable championship series and that Asian Games bronze medal. You could say all three men have come a long way. Everything the three have learned as coaches, they will now have to apply against each other. Of course, the UAAP isn’t just about UP, UE and NU. There are five other teams that they all have to deal with, and frankly among the three perhaps only NU can be considered a title contender. But each time there will be a UP-NU, UP-UE or NU-UE game this season, there will be a subplot in the works. Whether it’s ex-teammate vs. ex-teammate or coach vs. ex-player, it will make the action on the sidelines just as interesting as the action unfolding on the court.