THE partnership lasted almost three decades and withstood the test of time.
Veteran coach Derrick Pumaren and long-time lieutenant Agustin ‘Jun’ Tiongco were actually beginning a new journey together trying to reinforcing the sports program of Centro Escolar University.
Unfortunately, Pumaren will have to do things now without his dependable deputy, who passed away on Holy Wednesday after suffering a heart attack. He was 67.
Pumaren said he was with Tiongco less than an hour before he died.
“Of course, I was shocked. Magkasama lang kami that same day, kakahiwalay lang namin. We came from a meeting,” Pumaren told SPIN.ph. “After we parted ways, I called him less than an hour and hindi niya sinasagot yung phone niya.”
He did receive a call, but from Tiongco’s wife Beth, who relayed to him the sad news.
“Sinabi nga sa akin na nag-collapse siya,” said Pumaren, adding he knew that Jun had hypertension and is diabetic, but had no history of any heart problem.
If the late Ron Jacobs had Jong Uichico and Yeng Guiao the late Rhoel Nadurata always by their side, Pumaren and Tiongco – who previously worked under former national coach Joe Lipa - were inseparable dating back to the late 80s when ‘Manong’ first assumed the coaching job at De La Salle.
“Noong 1989 pa kami niyan,” said Pumaren. “Hanggang mag-PABL ako, all the way sa PBA, andiyan siya.”
When Pumaren became general manager of CEU following a three-year coaching stint at University of the East, he brought along Tiongco, who became team manager of the school in the ongoing PBA D-League Aspirants Cup.
The Scorpions even dedicated their game against Batangas EAC Generals on Monday to Tiongco, but unfortunately lost in a closely-fought match, 89-87.
For Pumaren, Tiongco, who also handles the San Beda Alabang team, was more than just an assistant coach.
“He was more than a brother to me. Pamilya ko na yan,” he said. “Wala pang asawa 'yan, kasama ko na siya.”
So what made the two of them tick?
“He’s very observant and a good listener,” said the champion coach and brother of fellow basketball mentors Franz and Dindo Pumaren. “He knows how to expound what I want to say, kaya mabilis kaming nagkasundo.”
“And of course, to many, Jun is a very jolly person,” he added. “Walang masamang tinapay sa kanya. He’s a true and loyal friend.”
Pumaren said he and Tiongco had a lot of plans for CEU’s sports program.
“Ang dami naming plano pa, especially for CEU,” he said. “Sayang nawala siya agad.”
But definitely, Jun Tiongco won’t be forgotten.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Coach Jun Tiongco’s body currently lies at Sanctuarium along Araneta Ave. Cremation will be held at the same place on Wednesday at 9 a.m.]