ARIC del Rosario has been coaching for so long that some of the coaches he’s up against in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) weren’t even born when he started in the business.
Yet at 78, the multi-titled mentor still finds thrill in roaming the sidelines.
While most of his contemporaries are long retired, ‘Tatay Aric’ - as some of his former players fondly call him - has just made his comeback as head coach for the Paranaque Patriots in the MPBL at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
There he was on Friday leading the Patriots to a 70-60 win over the Caloocan Supremos in their debut in a game that ended just a few minutes before midnight, well past bedtime for most men his age.
It isn't a problem for Tatay Aric.
“Hindi ko napigilan kasi 'yan ang first love ko talaga yang basketball kaya yung sarili ko iniingatan ko para hanggang ngayon pwede pa ako mag-coach,” said del Rosario.
Del Rosario’s latest comeback hasn't been easy. The proud architect of University of Santo Tomas’ four-peat in the early 90s resides in Quezon City, yet he makes the sacrifice to travel to Paranaque on an almost daily basis to run practices with the LGU backed-squad.
Yet it didn’t take much for the city to convince del Rosario to break his three-year hiatus from coaching and get back on the grind.
“Yung isang player ko dati, si Jamal Vizcarra, naglaro sa UST yun e. Yung misis niya konsehal ng Paranaque, si Joan Villafuerte. Sabi niya, kunin natin yung coach na kabisado natin, yung maiintindihan tayo kasi umpisa palang itong liga, marami pang problema lalo na sa budget,” del Rosario shared.
“Sabi ko, wala naman problema sa sweldo. Basta meron lang akong gagawin at magkakatrabaho ako, kaya natuloy ako sa Paranaque,” he added.
Del Rosario is one of the most successful coaches in Philippine basketball, having won championships not only for alma mater UST but also for the Pampanga Dragons in the MBA and with Alaska as one of Tim Cone's former assistant coaches.
Yet to this day, he still feels nervous before games.
“May nerbiyos e," said Del Rosario, whose last coaching job was with the Perpetual Help Altas in the NCAA, "bumalik ang nerbyos ngayon kasi dati, nasanay na ako pero ngayon, mga two days di na ako nakakatulog.”
“Masaya ako kasi atleast ngayon may ginagawa na naman ako. Kasi kagaya noon, nasa bahay lang, nood ng TV, kain, tulog kaya ngayon pasalamat ako na nagkaron ng ganitong liga,” he added.
“Maganda yung ginawa ni Senator Pacquiao. Marami siyang natulungan na players at mga coaches na walang ginagawa. Salamat sa kanya. Sana mapaganda itong ligang ito.”
His return to coaching also deepened his bond with his sons. His son Lester has been his assistant for the longest time, but now del Rosario has also tapped his sons Roderick and Edsel to help him out in the sidelines as well.
“Kinuha ko 'yung mga anak ko para hindi na ako kukuha ng alalay, para may tumutulong sa akin, kasi minsan sumasakit na yung tuhod natin e,” del Rosario said in jest.
Asked if he’s still strong enough to get in the faces of his players the same way he did in his heyday with the Growling Tigers, del Rosario answered in the affirmative.
“Kaunti-kaunti na lang. May limit na eh,” he said smiling.
For del Rosario, there’s still enough history to be made as he makes his swan song.
Del Rosario made history by becoming the first head coach to win an MBA title with the Pampanga Dragons back in 1998. Two decades later, del Rosario would want nothing more than to repeat that feat in another regional tournament with almost the same format.
"Sana mapa-champion ko ulit ito. Gaya nung MBA, ako yung first na champion coach with Pampanga. Para history ulit," he said.