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    Former King Tiger Dennis Espino says Coach Aric's legacy will live on

    A day ago

    WITHOUT question, Dennis Espino believes that Aric del Rosario is one of the greatest coaches, if not the best coach, in the history of Philippine college basketball.

    "Masasabi natin 'yan," he said in a rare interview granted to Spin.ph as he paid tribute to his beloved coach during their glory days at University of Santo Tomas. Del Rosario died on Wednesday night due to cardiac arrest.

    "Ang pagko-coach, hindi lang 'yan basta magaling ka na coach eh. Dapat tinitignan mo kung paano sila mag-motivate at doon magaling si Tatay Aric. Na-guide niya ang players niya sa buhay nila para di sila maiba ng landas."

    Espino could attest to that.

    It was del Rosario who saw the potential in the Angeles, Pampanga native and soon, took the 6-foot-6 banger to Espana.

    "Nag-start ako sa kanya, 16 years old ako. Noong una, talagang nakita ko na very strict siya. Siya na ang father figure ko kasi di ko kasama ang parents ko sa Manila, so siya na ang tumayong tatay ko. Pero noong nakasama ko na siya, ibang klase. Lahat ng kilos ko, siya ang nag-guide sa akin," said Espino.

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    Espino recounted one exchange with his fellow Kapampangan when he was doing extra work in the afternoon and was on the receiving end of playful jeers from his peers.

    "Rookie year ako noon at nagpa-practice ako mag-isa. Nakita niya ako na nage-extra at tinatanong niya kung palagi ko daw ba 'yung ginagawa. Sabi ko, 'Opo, kasi naka-quarters lang ako.' Sabi niya sa akin, 'Tandaan mo, ipagpatuloy mo 'yan. Balang araw, titingalain ka nila.' Hinding-hindi ko 'yun makalimutan," he said.

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    Espino went on to carve a name for himself as the cornerstone of the Growling Tigers side that went a perfect 14-0 season in 1993, before winning back-to-back titles the season after. He was the MVP in both those years.

    Del Rosario, meanwhile, steered UST to two more championships as it completed a rare four-peat behind the likes of Chris Cantonjos, Bal David, Patrick Fran, Estong Ballesteros, and Gerard Francisco.

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    Even when Espino turned professional and was picked first overall in the 1995 PBA Draft, del Rosario remained a constant in his life, keeping him in check as the young buck treaded a legendary 16-year career between Sta. Lucia and Powerade and won two PBA titles, including the Finals MVP in the 2008 Philippine Cup.

    "Sabi ko nga, siya yung pangalawang tatay ko. Hawak na niya ko since yung amateurs at talagang gina-guide niya ako. Hindi lang sa paglalaro, pati yung paano ako magisip at i-approach ang buhay," the former national player said.

    "Hanggang sa naging professional na ako, ganoon pa rin. Siya pa rin ang nag-guide sa akin sa kung ano ang dapat gawin. Kahit kilala ka na, sinasabihan niya ako na wag lumaki ang ulo. Kaya ano man ang narating ko ngayon, sa kanya yun."

    Fortunate as Espino was to be mentored by del Rosario, he said that the decorated coach has never been shy in sharing what he can to those in need.

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      He even recounted a time when the coach himself shouldered the tuition fee of two players after their 50-percent scholarship were suddenly defrayed.

      "Napangakuan na sila ng scholarship, pero sa dami ng players bago ang enrolment, nag-decide ang admin na tanggalin yung scholarship nila. Pero si Tatay Aric, mismong sa akin niya pinapabigay yung pambayad galing sa bulsa niya at ilang semester niya inabonohan yun dahil lang ayaw niya matigil sila sa pag-aaral. Ganoon siya ka-generous," Espino shared.

      "Talagang kung sa players niya, wala siyang pakialam kung gagastos siya basta lang na makita niya na masaya at nagmamahalan kayo. Masaya na siya doon. Kahit sa pamilya niya, dahil naging close na rin ako sa kanila dahil kumpare ko yung anak niya, basta makita niya lang na ang lahat nagmamahalan at walang nagaaway, masayang masaya na siya."

      That's why it really pained Espino that he was unable to be there for del Rosario in his final days until the 80-year-old bench tactician passed away on Wednesday night.

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      "Yun ang pinakamasakit, na wala tayo sa tabi niya. May plano din siguro si Lord na ayaw na Niya rin mahirapan si Tatay Aric. Wala na tayong magagawa," he said.

      The last time Espino saw del Rosario was last September in an alumni game against the current crop of the Growling Tigers, where he had a chance to reminisce the good old days with his coach.

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      "Madalang kami magkita, pero pag nagkikita kami, kitang-kita mo sa malayo pa lang yung ningning ng mata niya, yung ngiti niya pag nagyakapan kami. Iba ang feeling ko pag nakikita ko siya dahil ramdam mo na genuine yung pagmamahal niya. Parang bumabalik yung pagkabata namin at parang di siya tumatanda," he said.

      They planned numerous times to visit each other's farms, Espino's in Arayat and del Rosario's in Mexico, although these plans never pushed through.

      The 46-year-old Espino, though, said that del Rosario's legacy will live forever, seeing the deluge of tributes given to their beloved coach.

      Not all players may have made it to the PBA, but del Rosario made sure that almost all of them will have better lives after their time with him.

      "Alam ko na hindi kami nagkakalayo ng sinasabi. Sa kanya kasi, wala kang masasabi na hindi maganda. Hindi ka lang sa basketball gagaling sa kanya, pati sa kung paano mo harapin ang buhay at paano ka mare-respeto ng ibang mga tao. Sa ipapakita niya sa iyo, ikaw na mismo ang mahihiya," said Espino.

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      "Hindi ka man naging successful sa basketball, hindi ibig sabihin noon na di ka na successful sa buhay. Nagkataon lang na yung iba, tumuloy sa paglalaro at umabot kami sa professional, pero yung naitulong ni coach sa mga players, na nakalibre sila ng pag-aaral, nakapagtapos kami, lahat yun dahil sa tulong niya at pinagtiyagaan kami niya. Dahil sa guidance ni coach at tulong na binigay niya, very successful na sila sa kani-kanilang buhay."

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      There's no doubt in Espino's mind that del Rosario truly belongs among the iconic coaches who made a great impact on the game.

      "Sa atin, may mga King Tiger, pero siya yung talagang idol natin dahil naging mentor siya sa lahat. Hindi lang sa basketball kundi sa pananaw sa buhay, dala-dala ka niya at i-guide ka niya," he said.

      "Iba ang legacy na iniwan ni coach sa akin. Habang buhay ko yun na dala-dala at lagi ko siyang iho-honor. Hindi sapat yung salitang salamat sa lahat ng naitulong niya sa amin at sa maraming tao na naging parte ng buhay niya at ng pamilya niya."

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