HOLLYWOOD – As contemporaries, Kenneth Duremdes and Jose Francisco were asked to pose for a snapshot as the two waited for Manny Pacquiao to finish training at the nearby Wildcard gym here.
When later asked if the two of them still remember the time they used to play against each other in the UAAP, Francisco, who has been based in the US for a long time, was quick to taunt Duremdes who stood just beside him.
“Huwag mo ng ipaalala kay Kenneth 'yan,” said the player known as the ‘Pistolero’ during his heydays.
Playing for the Far Eastern University Tamaraws, Francisco battled Duremdes and the Adamson Falcons in the 1992 UAAP men’s basketball finals, which the Morayta-based school won via two-game sweep.
Duremdes had giants Marloy Aquino, EJ Feihl, and Giovanni Pineda as frontcourt teammates while calling the plays at the point was big guard Bong Dela Cruz, now the head coach of University of Santo Tomas.
But Duremdes noted it was the presence of sentinel playmaker Johnny Abarrientos that spelled the difference in the title series held during the pre-Final Four era.
“Si Johnny ang big difference sa kanila,” recalled Duremdes. “Facilitator si Johnny. Kabisado niya saan hahanapin 'yung mga wingmen nila.’
The hot-shooting Francisco was among those FEU gunners, along with Nestor Echano and Arnold Padaong. The Tamaraws also had Long David and Bryant Punzalan in the frontline, while backing up Abarrientos at the point was Robert Flores, who would later steer the school to another championship (2005) as head coach.
“Malakas din yung team ng FEU na' yun,” said Duremdes, the 1998 PBA MVP. “Kami malalaki nga pero mabagal. Tinakbuhan lang nila kami.”
It turned out the stint was the closest Duremdes came to a UAAP title.
The following year (1993), University of Santo Tomas scored a 14-game sweep of the season to win the crown, before repeating as champion in 1994 when Adamson didn’t compete after serving its one-year suspension for committing a violation on the playing eligibility of the 6-foot-9 Aquino.
Duremdes turned pro in 1995.
“Kaya huwag mo nang ipaalala kay Kenneth yan,” said Francisco as he kept on chiding Duremdes, who he regularly meets every time Pacquiao has a fight in the U.S.
Both Duremdes and Francisco play basketball with Pacquiao whenever the boxing great is in the US.