If college teams are measured by number of PBA players produced, these four batches stand out
Four college batches - the 1986 San Sebastian team led by Bong Alvarez, the 1993 UST team of Dennis Espino and the Ateneo and La Salle teams of 2002 - produced quite a number of future PBA players.

THE success of a college basketball team is usually measured by how far it reaches in league tournaments, whether it gets stuck in the elimination round, advances to the Final Four, or ultimately wins the championship.

But if we rate a college team's success by the number of players who went on and made it to the PBA, three UAAP batches and one NCAA team from the eighties stood out.

Over the last decade alone, there are the 2002 Ateneo and La Salle teams.

The Blue Eagles, who won the UAAP title in 2002, produced nine future pros in LA Tenorio, Larry Fonacier, Enrico Villanueva, JC Intal, Doug Kramer, Rich Alvarez, Wesley Gonzales Macky Escalona, and Gec Chia.

The Green Archers, on the other hand, produced more as 13 cagers went on to have PBA careers: Joseph Yeo, Mike Cortez, Macmac Cardona, Willy Wilson, TY Tang, Jerwin Gaco, Carlo Sharma, Adonis Sta. Maria, Manny Ramos, Cholo Villanueva, Junjun Cabatu, Jose Aquino, and Mike Gavino.

Cardona believes that reaching the finals for the second straight year helped these Green Archers players boost their draft stock.

“Lagi kami nasa finals nun, sikat yung school namin at maganda yung pinapakita namin, siguro nakatulong sa amin yun,” the NLEX shooting guard, whose Franz Pumaren-coached team captured the UAAP crown in 2001, said in a chat with Spin.ph.

Enrico Villanueva echoed his future teammate’s sentiment.

“I guess it helped also that we won a championship, so mas maraming nagkaroon ng kumpiyansa at nabigyan ng opportunity na mag-pro,” the Road Warriors big man said, singling out Gec Chia, who was discovered in Ateneo’s intramurals, as the best example.

Enrico Villanueva is one of nine players from the 2002 Ateneo team who went on to play in the PBA. Jerome Ascano
Enrico Villanueva is one of nine players from the 2002 Ateneo team who went on to play in the PBA. Jerome Ascano

“Gec, who was very popular sa intrams, ended up in the PBA also because of one shot that changed his career,” Villanueva said of Chia, best known for his game-winning jumper in Game Two of the Final Four over twice-to-beat University of the East that booked their ticket to the finals. He went on to nurture a seven-year pro career.

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It also helped that the Blue Eagles met the rival Archers in a dream finals showdown that went the distance.

“Sa Ateneo-La Salle championship, manalo o matalo ka dun, (maganda ang future mo),” Cardona said. “Lahat kami sumikat nun.”

“Yung hype nandun,” the flamboyant gunner added. “Sobrang sikat namin nun dati. Kung baga, kami nagbalik nung rivalry ng Ateneo tsaka La Salle.”

Imagine if these players took the spotlight in the age of social media, Cardona said.

“Lalo na ngayon, may (social media), sobrang sikat ng mga player ngayon. Imagine mo kung may Twitter dati?” said Cardona, who’s now teammates with Enrico Villanueva.

No less than 13 players from Mac Cardona and Mike Cortez's La Salle batch went on to have careers in the PBA. Jerome Ascano
No less than 13 players from Mac Cardona and Mike Cortez's La Salle batch went on to have careers in the PBA. Jerome Ascano

But more than anything else, Villanueva believes it’s a player’s character that will ultimately decide his fate.

“Sa attitude rin ng player yun to work hard to eventually make it to the PBA,” the 35-year-old cager said. “Na-tiyempo lang talaga na marami nung time na 'yun (ang nag-PBA).”

The former King Eagle, though, was hardly surprised that many players from their batch managed to turn pro.

“We really had potential back then kasi we were rebuilding our program,” Villanueva said of the Joen Banal-mentored side.

Another fabled team that produced plenty of pro-bound players was the 1993 University of Santo Tomas Tigers side that ruled the UAAP after sweeping their 14 games that season.

True enough, most players on that team, handled by Aric del Rosario, realized their pro hoop dreams as Dennis Espino, Bal David, Rey Evangelista, Patrick Fran, Siot Tanquingcen, Edmund Reyes, and Udoy Belmonte made the PBA.

“Yung ang team talaga,” del Rosario beamed of the team that also tasted success in regional tournaments. “Yung samahan nila, iba. Nakakalaban namin ang ibang team sa ibang liga, minsan selection ng UAAP, nananalo sa mga liga sa abroad, Taiwan, Korea.”

Del Rosario recounted that the Tigers were so strong that the team still managed to win in a UAAP game despite four players being ridiculously disallowed to play after coming off a national team stint overseas.

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The veteran mentor, a concurrent Alaska assistant coach that time, said he applied what he learned from Tim Cone, now the PBA’s most successful coach.

“Kung ano natutunan ko kay Tim Cone, kung paano mag-disiplina, ina-apply ko sa kanila, kaya pag dating nila sa PBA, angat sila,” Del Rosario said. “Alam na nila yung sistema eh.”

Aric del Rosario remembers his 1993 team fondly. Jerome Ascano
Aric del Rosario remembers his 1993 team fondly. Jerome Ascano

The University of Perpetual Help coach, who said he has consistently produced “four to five” pro players every year, regretted that two players from the 1993 team — Alex Tan and Boy Abugan — unfortunately were unable to make it to the pros.

If that 1990s team already had a constellation of future pro stars, one team that played a decade earlier stood the brightest in terms of PBA players produced.

The mid-1980s San Sebastian squad had all but on player reaching the PBA.

Bong Alvarez, Eugene Quilban, Art dela Cruz, Nap Hatton, Saturnino Garrido, Toying Teves, Chris Bade, Eton Navarro, Allan Delos Reyes, and Django Rivera were the standouts on that Francis Rodriguez-coached Golden Stags team that finished second to none in the NCAA in 1986.

“Ang ganda ng lineup namin nun at maganda yung support ng mga pari that time,” Dela Cruz, who played for the Stags from 1984 to 1987, said. “That time, open mag-recruit ang San Sebastian. Kung saan-saan pumunta si Francis para kumuha ng magaling na player.

“Maganda yung na-form na team ni Francis tsaka yung focus at camaraderie namin, nandun,” added the Barako Bull assistant coach, who has now produced a second-generation pro player in son Arthur.

He recalled that Galvin Collantes was the only member who failed to land a pro contract from that fabled squad that won the Best Collegiate Team award in the Philippine Amateur Basketball League after having the best finish among college squads that participated in the defunct amateur league.

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“That time, kami yung pinakamarami na umangat sa PBA. Kahit ngayon,” Dela Cruz boasted. “(Hindi ako nagulat na ganun ka-rami) kasi talented talaga yung mga kasamahan ko nun eh.”

While the talent remains, the attitude, Del Rosario rued, of college players has changed from then and now.

“Iba na ang ugali ng player ngayon, kaya hirap na rin ako,” the 75-year-old coach admitted. “Kung ipipilit mo yung gusto mo,  mag-aaway kayo eh. Hindi gaya nun, kahit ang gagaling na at Philippine team na at naglalaro na ng PBL, sila Dennis Espino, pero pag sinabi mong ‘upo,’ upo sila eh. Walang reklamo yan.”

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos