BLACKWATER team owner Dioceldo Sy became emotional after letting go of Pat Aquino as head coach of undefeated National University to concentrate on his job as mentor and program director of the Gilas Pilipinas women’s team.
Sy on Pat Aquino
Sy admitted having a difficult time making the decision especially with Aquino leaving his imprint with the Lady Bulldogs as among the greatest women’s college basketball teams of all time.
But Sy said national pride and interest are above everything else.
“I hate to see Pat leave NU, but there’s our national interest that’s more supreme,” he said, his voice cracking, during the Thanksgiving lunch for the Gilas women’s team that retained the basketball gold in the recently concluded 31st Southeast Asian Games.
Sy personally talked to the NU hierarchy led by Herbert Sy to ask that Aquino be freed from his coaching duties with the Lady Bulldogs, the undefeated, defending six-time UAAP women’s champion. And knowing what the bigger picture lies ahead, the school owners readily agreed.
Aquino leaving the Lady Bulldogs formally ends a decade-long partnership that produced one of the best winning streaks in Philippine basketball history, one which saw the team stay unbeaten in 96 games that spanned from 2014 to 2019 and produced six straight championships.
Sy recalled how the Sys approached him and Aquino back in 2012 to ask the Ever Bilena owner to help sponsor the team and have his former player and women’s coach to handle the Lady Bulldogs.
Aquino slowly built the foundation of the team and turned the program around after languishing the bottom of the standings for several years.
The Lady Bulldogs finished sixth in Aquino’s first year, improved to fifth the following season, and then entered the finals in Aquino’s third year at the helm, losing to De La Salle in a best-of-three series that went the full route.
The following season began the Lady Bulldogs’ reign as the undisputed queens of UAAP basketball.
“After that, it’s history. Six-peat,” said Sy.
Aquino, who Sy referred to as legend, branching into coaching was unexpected. He was his player with Blu Detergent in the defunct Philippine Basketball League, whose career was going nowhere.
“Sabi ko sa kanya, huwag ka nag mag-player. Mag-coach ka na lang. So that’s where it all started,” said Sy.
Aquino’s first coaching job was with Ever Bilena in the Women’s PBL, where he steered the ballclub to three straight championships in 1998 and 1999, and then in 2008 when it was briefly revived.
The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) saw the potential of Aquino that he was named head coach of the national youth team, with Ever Bilena as its corporate backer.
Then in 2014, Aquino was elevated as head coach of the women’s team and Sy as its major supporter.
While Aquino was weaving his magic with the Lady Bulldogs, he was also doing the same thing with the women’s team.
He helped promote the Philippines to Level 1 in the FIBA Asia Women’s Championship since 2017, and then finally gave the country its first-ever women’s basketball gold during the 30th Southeast Asian Games here as well as the maiden gold in the inaugural 3x3 event of the biennial meet.
“That’s why I felt emotional. Parang looking back, 10 years in this journey to the NU success was unprecedented,” said Sy.
“Deep relationship. Parang end of an era.”
Sy will continue to work with Aquino with Gilas team, but another Blackwater deputy in Aris Dimaunahan will now take over the reign at NU.
“Will continue to help him (Aquino) out. So I hope the national players will continue to support Pat,” he added.
During the lunch event, Ever Bilena gave out a one-month bonus to the entire Gilas women’s team that is equal to the regular allowances they’ve been receiving.