EVERYBODY knows him for his version of “The Shot” – the three-point dagger that pierced through University of Santo Tomas' heart and sent Game Three of the 1999 UAAP Finals to overtime on the way to La Salle winning the second of four straight championships.
What most people don’t know was the adversity that Dino Aldeguer had to go through that made one of the most iconic moments in local sports history even sweeter.
Looking back on his trademark clutch moment like it happened yesterday in the latest episode of Spin Exclusive, the former Green Archers star point guard recounted what a successful 1998 season it had been for him and La Salle. Aldeguer was named to the mythical team as he conspired with Renren Ritualo and Don Allado to lead the Taft-based dribblers to their first UAAP championship in eight years, denying Far Eastern University’s back-to-back title bid.
The success spilled over to the Philippine Basketball League where Aldeguer again earned a mythical five selection and helped steer Welcoat to the championship to end the 1998 season on a high note.
What goes up comes down
So high, however, that he somehow couldn’t keep his feet on the ground. As complacency crept in early into the 1999 UAAP season – his final playing year, Aldeguer was reduced to a pale shadow of his old self, and soon enough, he lost his starting job and the playing time that came with it.
Usually averaging just two to five minutes of rest per game, Aldeguer was lucky to see five to seven minutes of action in a contest of two halves as second-year coach Franz Pumaren inserted Mac Cuan in the starting five.
“It was such a struggle for me,” Aldeguer admitted. “It was quite challenging, and it was really heartbreaking where it was easy for hopelessness and discouragement to sink in.”
The 5-foot-9 playmaker toiled in Pumaren’s doghouse for the rest of the regular season while the Archers still were good enough to win, ending up tied with UST at the end of the eliminations.
Old reliable gets stuck
With the playoffs coming around, Aldeguer felt Pumaren was turning to his old reliables again as he was getting plenty of action in training sessions, sparking his inkling that he was about to be unleashed in the playoff for the top seed against the Growling Tigers.
But fate has a funny way to intervene as Aldeguer and Allado, who both live in the south of Manila, got caught in traffic as they rode together on their way to the game at Araneta Coliseum under heavy downpour.
“We were past Alabang highway and all of a sudden, it rained really hard; it just stormed,” Aldeguer recalled. “We were already 30 minutes on the highway and I said, ‘Don, I don’t think we’re gonna reach.’ One hour later, we’re still in the same spot. Two hours later, in the same spot.”
The Archers duo tuned in to the radio and heard the announcer noting their absence from the warmup session, and a few moments later, hearing another report that they were already “running along Katipunan.”
“We were laughing inside the car because we were not even close to Katipunan. We were stuck there,” Aldeguer continued.
“It broke my heart because you have to consider that I thought I was gonna play that game,” he added on a serious note. “I thought this was going to be my breakout game. I even told my parents, ‘Dad, you better come watch my game.’”
Without Aldeguer and Allado, Ritualo came to the rescue as the La Salle sniper turned shot the lights out at the the Big Dome to lead the Green Archers to the top seed and the twice-to-beat advantage, an incentive the full-strength Archers didn’t need in the semifinals where they blew FEU out by 22 points.
“I cannot stop thanking Renren,” Aldeguer said. “Renren bailed us out. He scored I think 33, 35 points…He steps up and takes us there.”
Finally starting to get back in Pumaren’s good graces, Aldeguer had a chance to redeem himself late in Game One of the finals against the Tigers.
With the Archers down by three, Pumaren drew a play for Ritualo to take a three-pointer on the right side to drag the game to OT.
But an overeager Aldeguer decided to take matters into his own hands, firing his own shot beyond the arc that didn’t even hit the rim as the Tigers escaped with a two-point win to move on the verge of their first title since their four-peat from 1993 to ’96.
“That was one game I didn’t even want to go inside the dugout because I knew chairs will be flying,” Aldeguer admitted. “Because they will blame me for that mistake, because technically, it was very clear: the play was not for me; it was for Renren.”
“But for me, gung ho na ako eh, kasi from where I came from, from being frustrated for many games, sabi ko, ‘Baka ito na yung opportunity ko,’” he added.
The Archers bounced back in Game Two with Aldeguer playing only eight minutes as Cuan bailed them out with his clutch free throws to send the series to a deciding game.
Despite getting on equal footing with the Tigers, the Archers still felt like their backs were against the wall as they had to play at a Cuneta Astrodome that brought back plenty of bad memories, including Bal David’s free throws that sealed the Tigers’ 1994 title at the expense of La Salle.
“No La Sallite wanted to play in Cuneta,” Aldeguer admitted. “I remember I entered the sports office and they were finding ways to move the game out of Cuneta….But we had no choice.”
“At the same time, we play UST, the team has always beaten us in Cuneta, so the odds were against us. It’s UST again and the late great coach Aric del Rosario who always had La Salle’s number in his pocket,” he added.
Getting out of the ‘pit’
But while most were worried, Aldeguer was surprisingly in a relaxed mood to the point where one teammate came to him and questioned his focus.
“I just said na, ‘I have a good feeling, we’re going to win this game. I have a feeling that I’m going to finally come out and have my breakout game,’” Aldeguer beamed.
True enough, Aldeguer checked in six minutes into the game and made an immediate impact, scoring in double figures right in the first half.
The Archers, though, still found themselves playing catchup as UST built an eight-point lead with three minutes left in the fourth quarter. La Salle managed to fight back and cut the deficit to just two points with less than a minute remaining. Getting a possession off a jumpball for a chance to tie the game, Ritualo missed a left-corner shot; Allado was there for a second chance, but that attempt also missed, before Gilbert Lao grabbed the rebound for UST and drew a foul.
“I was like, Renren missed, Don missed, and I’m the only one left in the Big Three who hasn’t done anything to help our team,” Aldeguer recalled. “So I said maybe this was an opportunity if I get the ball, maybe crack one.”
With both teams regrouping in a timeout, Pumaren called the exact same play they ran late in Game One where Aldeguer would look for a cutting Ritualo from the side off an Allado screen for the former to do his thing. If Ritualo didn’t have an opening, he would have to pass it back to Allado, then back to Aldeguer, who was expected to swing the ball to the left side to Mon Jose for his own three-point try.
After the huddle, Lao split his charities to give the Tigers a three-point lead, forcing the Archers to look for a three-pointer to send the game to an extra session.
Getting the ball across the half-court line, Aldeguer ran the play and fed Ritualo, who was immediately met by a UST double-team that forced him to give up the ball to Allado, who then passed it to Aldeguer.
“Renren is a deadly shooter. I’ve never seen anyone in La Salle history who could shoot like Renren. But apparently, the entire UST team also knew he was the best shooter,” Aldeguer said as his defender - Niño Gelig - covered for Allado, whose defender had left his mark to double-team Ritualo.
“If I were looking back at this game, I think that was the mistake the UST player had because he should not have switched to Don because Don was a center, and there was still enough time for Don to make a pass and he’s not going to take a three-point shot,” Aldeguer added.
When he got the ball back, Aldeguer knew it was his time.
“When I had it, I just had the feeling that – Don missed, Renren missed earlier, I’m going to save this team and I’m going to carry this team,” he thought. “So I take the three-point shot. I got fouled, but if you see the video, I never took my eyes off the goal, off the ball, because I knew something good was going to happen.”
“And it went in and everything was just pandemonium. Everybody just went wild,” he added with a smile.
That shot was the culmination of his redemption from being stuck in the depths of struggle early in the season.
“For me, more than anything, it’s really me pulling myself out of the pit of where I came from,” Aldeguer said.
“So that shot was more of a vindication, more of a thorn being pulled out of your skin,” he added. “It was a breakthrough shot. And up to this day, I’m amazed that people still remember and talk about that shot. It stays fresh in my memory until today.”
Aldeguer, though, admitted there was a part of him that felt the game still had the chance to slip away in overtime, before the Archers sealed the deal to complete back-to-back championships.
“I knew we were going to pull through in overtime. I had a really good feeling. Pero parang there was this other side telling you na, ‘Naku, baka madale pa kami dito,’” said Aldeguer, who scored the first four points in OT, then fouled out, before Ritualo and Cuan put the game away.
His dagger eventually catapulted him to greater heights. He became the third overall pick in the 2000 PBA Rookie Draft by Purefoods, played two years with Alaska, before moving on to the MBA where he played and won a championship with his hometown team, the Negros Slashers.
The father of two athlete boys and one daughter has since been happily retired and now runs a construction business.
But two decades since his trademark clutch moment, Aldeguer hopes people can continue to be inspired from that shot taken by, he coins, “the Green Archer with the biggest heart.”
“It became a symbol of hope not only to me,” Aldeguer said. “Everyone goes through challenges, everyone goes through struggles and adversity. But the shot reminded me that no matter where I came from, I can always come out of it victorious as long as I don’t quit, as long as we persevere.”
“That’s why every time people talk to me about it, I will not stop saying that as long as you persevere, as long as you don’t quit, it’s impossible for you not to come out victorious. God always brings us a message of hope and as long as we don’t stop hoping, as long as we continue believing, good things will come out of it,” he concluded.