THE late Senator John Osmeña did Philippine basketball one big favor.
The public official from Cebu City was the one who paved the way for Ranidel de Ocampo to resume his young career at a time when no team wanted to touch the 6-foot-6 stretch forward with a 10-feet pole.
De Ocampo, then 18 years young, was found to be suffering from an ailment that forced him to stop playing.
When he was finally fit to play again, no one dared to tap the services of the future national team mainstay.
Only Osmena did.
It was during those times when Osmena was forming a new team called John O Juzz for the defunct Philippine Basketball League (PBL) that the two crossed paths.
Left out by PBL ballclubs, De Ocampo was content playing again for his alma mater Saint Francis of Assisi College when the Cebuano leader personally went to one of his games to meet him and offered him to play for John O.
“Natatandaan ko yun pinuntahan niya ako sa National Intercollegiate sa Roxas City. Finals namin nun, St. Francis versus University of the Visayas,” he recalled. “Sinilip niya ako dun tapos nagpakilala.
“And pagbalik ng Manila, kinuha niya na ako sa John O. Tinulungan niya akong makabalik sa PBL.”
His return path to basketball was not easy as it required a lot of medical tests and clearance before he could resume his career. And Osmena was there to help him all the way.
“Tinulungan niya akong makakuha ng requirements, health certificate, health and doctors’ clearance. So napakalaking bagay talaga ni Senator Osmena sa akin nung time na yun,” said De Ocampo.
It was also Osmena who convinced then PBL commissioner Chino Trinidad that De Ocampo was healthy enough to play again.
“Tinulungan niya talaga ako. Sumugal sa akin yun,” he said. “Kumbaga nagtiwala siya.”
The retired 39-year-old big man mentioned it was Welcoat through owners Raymund Yu, his late mother Margaret Yu, and Terry Que who helped defray his hospital expenses as brother Yancy was then a star player for the franchise.
But it was Osmena who really paved the way for him to make a successful comeback.
“Binigyan niya ako ng magandang kontrata. Napakagandang blessing talaga nun,” said De Ocampo.
John O never got to play for a PBL title during its short stint in the league, but became the perfect avenue for De Ocampo to get his career back on track.
When the team was disbanded after Osmena filed his candidacy for senator, RDO never played for another PBL ballclub.
He concentrated playing for St. Francis and then, suited up for the Cebuana Lhuillier-backed men’s national team that won the basketball gold during the 2003 Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam.
The following year he applied for the PBA draft and was picked in the first round (No. 4 overall) by FedEx.
He retired last year after 14 seasons in a pro career spiked by six PBA championships, a Best Player of the Conference award, two PBA Press Corps Finals MVP honors, three Mythical First Team selections, one Mythical Second Team award. He was also a member of the All-Rookie team, and a nine-time All-Star.
De Ocampo also became a fixture in the national team. He was part of the silver-medal unit during the 2013 and 2015 FIBA Asia Men’s Championships and a member of the Gilas Pilipinas team that made a return trip to the 2014 FIBA World Cup following a 36-year absence.
All of these, he wouldn’t have achieved had Osmena not gambled on him 19 years ago.
“Nakakalungkot dahil nawala na si senator. Very humble yan at maraming tao na natulungan,” he said of the three-term senator and former congressman, councilor, vice mayor, and recently mayor of Toledo City.
Osmena died last Feb. 2. He was 86.