THE man sitting a few seats away from Robert Jaworski is frail, old and practically blind. But if not for this old man’s eye for talent and a surreal twist of fate, the Big J could’ve ended up either at Far Eastern University or somewhere else -- and not further down Azcarraga road (now Claro M. Recto street) at the University of the East.
The old man’s name? Baby Dalupan.
“Ang perfect example talaga sa pagkamagaling ni Baby tumingin ng player ay si Jaworski,” said Pilo Pumaren, another former UE star and Dalupan’s assistant during the Warriors’ glorious run in the sixties and seventies. “Nag-tryout [si Jaworski] at kinuha agad siya ni Baby.”
According to an article written by veteran sportswriter Eddie Alinea in March, Jaworski tried out for the FEU men’s basketball team fresh from high school. The Tamaraws at that time, however, already had a loaded roster and had no spot for Jaworski.
Multi-titled coach Arturo Valenzona, who was playing for FEU at that time, saw the potential in Jaworski and recommended him to a friend who was studying at UE.
“That’s correct, I would have landed in FEU,” Jaworski told SPIN.ph, confirming the story. “But I guess somehow, the situation and of course God brought me to this side of the area.”
Jaworski said Dalupan was the biggest reason he decided to play for the Red Warriors.
“As soon as I entered the door, the first thing that coach Baby Dalupan asked me was by what name I wanted to be called. That was the only thing,” Jaworski said. “And I thought that this was an expression of belonging.”
He readily felt at home.
That gave birth to a union that led to the most emphatic title run by any team in the UAAP. Together, Dalupan and Jaworski helped UE dominate college basketball, kicking off a streak of seven consecutive UAAP titles that remains unmatched to this day. Jaworski ended his college career in 1967.
But more than that, it started a coach-player relationship anchored on respect that survived the test of time.
Asked about his most famous UE player on Tuesday night, Dalupan, now 88, told SPIN.ph: “Wala akong mapipintas sa kanya. Disiplinado siyang player.”
The feeling was mutual.
“There was never any minute or a second of us disagreeing with each other,” Jaworski said of the time he spent under Dalupan’s tutelage. “We always had the same length of thought and there was a deep respect for each other. And I think that was the key for our team.”
@ An exhibit of Robert Jaworski photos is being held at the Gateway mall, Ali Mall and Farmers Plaza of the Araneta Center until July 9 as part of the the PBA legend's jersey retirement ceremonies.