Tributes pour in as Philippine basketball bids 'King Caloy' Loyzaga farewell
Basketball great Caloy Loyzaga’s remains lie in state at the Arlington Memorial Chapel Hall A at Araneta Ave. Schedule of interment will be announced later, according to his son Chito. Jerome Ascano

HOW great a player was the late Caloy Loyzaga?

San Miguel coach Leo Austria is not old enough to see him play in the flesh or to be personally coached by him. But based on what people had been telling him, it’s a combination of how good his sons Chito and Joey Loyzaga were during their prime.

Certainly even more.

“Ang nakalaro at nakasabayan ko talaga si Chito and Joey,” said the 57-year-old veteran mentor. “At ang sinasabi nila combined skills nilang dalawa si Caloy.”

Chito, the elder of the two, carved out a reputation as a great defender during his playing years in the PBA, while Joey was the better offensive player between them.

“Just imagine kung pinagsama ‘yung skills nilang dalawa, yun daw si Caloy,” said Austria shortly after Game Five of the Smart Bro-PBA Philippine Cup finals between San Miguel and Alaska at the Araneta Coliseum.

But he could be more than just Chito and Joey together.

“Yun lang naman ang nababanggit ng mga nakakita kung paano siyang maglaro. Pero malamang he’s more than that, because he’s considered as the greatest ever Filipino basketball player,” said Austria of the man everybody has come to know as ‘The Big Difference.’

Loyzaga died on Wednesday morning at the age of 85, just hours after the country was drawn with France, New Zealand, Canada, Senegal and Turkey in the qualifying tournament for the Rio De Janeiro Olympics to be held in Manila later this year.

The elder Loyzaga was a two-time Olympian (1952 and 1956).

But his greatest moment came during the 1954 World Basketball Championships (now Fiba World Cup) in Rio de Janeiro, when he steered the national team to a bronze medal finish, which until now, is the highest ever achieved by the Philippines and any Asian country for that matter. Loyzaga was named part of the Mythical team after finishing as the meet’s No. 3 scorer.

The barrel-chested big man out of San Beda was also part of the Philippine team that won the Asian Games gold four times (1951, 1954, 1958, and 1962) and the FIBA Asia Championship twice (1960 and 1963).

Upon retiring as a player in 1964, Loyzaga branched out into coaching and was the man at the helm of the Philippine team’s so-called ‘Dirty Dozen’ which regained the ABC crown (now FIBA Asia) in 1967 against South Korea.

His last years as coach were spent calling the shots for Tanduay and U-Tex in the pro league.

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Loyzaga’s remains lie in state at the Arlington Memorial Chapel Hall A at Araneta Ave.  Daily mass is scheduled every 7 p.m., while public viewing is held from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Schedule of interment will be announced later, according to his son Chito.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @gerardmos