LAS VEGAS – Rey Yncierto has long been retired from basketball, but he never ceases to look back to his roots.
A known alumnus of University of Cebu, Yncierto, in his own little way, helped set off the career of the man considered as the most important player in Philippine basketball today.
His name: June Mar Fajardo.
Unknown to many, it was Yncierto, the former Pepsi Cola gunner in the PBA, who supplied Fajardo his size 17 sneakers during the time he was playing for the Webmasters.
“Size 17 kasi ang sapatos niya. Alam mo naman dito sa Amerika maraming size na malalaki, kaya ako ang nagbibigay tsaka nagpapadala nung naglalaro pa siya sa UC,” said Yncierto, who has been based in Los Angeles for more than 25 years now.
Rhoel Gomez, Fajardo’s coach at UC, was a former teammate of Yncierto in college - along with Carlito Mejos and Allen Sasan. Gomez was the one who approached him to help the 6-foot-10 Cebuano find playing shoes that fit him.
“Siyempre, hindi natin matanggihan, school natin yun, and si Rhoel dating teammate ko,” he said, recalling the time Gomez went to the US to seek his help. “Tsaka nung nalaman ko ganun kalaki and may potential, talagang tumulong na ko.”
Yncierto and Gomez won championships together in the Cebu Amateur Athletics Association (CAAA), the forerunner of the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation Inc. or Cesafi, which proved to be his passport in hooking up with teams in the defunct Philippine Amateur Basketball League (PABL) and playing for ballclubs such as Lhullier, RFM Swift, among others.
As a rookie free agent, he was signed by expansion team Pepsi during the 1990-91 season of the PBA, playing for the late coach Ed Ocampo and Derrick Pumaren.
His pro career was cut short however, by his decision to migrate to the US.
“Pinitisyon kasi ako ng misis ko noon kaya pumunta na ako dito sa Amerika. Hindi ko na nga tinapos yung kontrata ko sa Pepsi,” said Yncierto, whose wife works as a nurse.
He only played for 26 games in the pro league, with career averages of 6.7 points.
The Ynciertos have two kids, who are now in college, a boy and a girl, although none of them got hooked to basketball.
“Walang hilig sa basketball. Puro hip-hop,” he said with a big laugh.
Last January, the Ynciertos had the chance to have a short vacation in the Philippines in time for the Sinulog festival. It so happened too, it was Game Seven of the San Miguel-Alaska finals for the Philippine Cup championship.
“Sabi ko andito (Manila) na rin lang kami, manood na ako ng game. Tamang-tama Game Seven, history kung manalo man ang San Miguel,” he said.
With the help of longtime Cebuano friend Gerry Penalosa, the two-time world boxing champion, Yncierto was able to get tickets for the all-important game at the last minute.
And he did get the chance too to meet Fajardo for the first time in person shortly after the Beermen completed their historic rise from an 0-3 deficit to win the best-of-seven title series.
“Pinakilala kami sa dugout pero saglit lang. Nag-usap lang ng konti. Teacher nga ang tawag sa akin,” he said of his meeting with the back-to-back league MVP.
After securing tickets for the PBA championship, Yncierto also sought the help of Penalosa, this time to watch Manny Pacquiao live as he fights Tim Bradley this weekend at the MGM Grand here.
Yncierto got his tickets after personally watching Pacquiao train at the Wild Card gym in Los Angeles last week.
“Malakas naman yan (Penalosa) kay Manny,” he said of the former UC high school boxing standout.