by rick olivares
In 1958, Ateneo, after a 19-year wait, got back at De La Salle by trumping them for the 1958 NCAA crown. In a game witnessed by 10,000 people at the old barn along Vito Cruz, the Blue Eagles rallied for a 105-103 overtime win versus the Green Archers.
La Salle's starting unit then was Jose Laganson, Jose Zubiri, Kurt Bachmann, Hector Gamboa, and Dominador Servillano. Ateneo on the other hand started Ed Ocampo, Bobby Littaua, Cris Arroyo, Tony Jose, and Jimmy Pestaño.
Unlike the rest of the NCAA field that lined-up 16 players, Ateneo only had 12. The rest of the roster included Lito Carvajal, Amado Martelino, Boogie Pamintuan, Vic Kramer, Dodie Agcaoili, Nani Hernaez, and Mike Jalandoni. Coaching them was former player Jing Roco. The team had been gutted by team discipline and academics. One casualty of that squad was Paquito Diaz. The actor and father of Joko Diaz.
The championship game featured16 deadlocks and 11 lead changes.
In the final seconds, Jose Laganzon was fouled but missed both free throws that would have broken a 103-stalemate. Incredibly Zubiri was able to muscle his way in for an offensive rebound but he missed the putback. Tony Jose finally pulled down the rebound and passed off to Bobby Littaua. Thinking he didn't have enough time, Littaua heaved a halfcourt shot that hit the side of the board. Dodo Martelino and Cris Arroyo raced down court around the same time and the former pulled down the rebound that caromed mightily off the backboard. His jumpshot missed but Arroyo, who was nicknamed "Stretch" for his penchant for driving to the lane while exposing the ball for foes to block, got one final offensive rebound and scored as time expired.
In case you want to know, early in the match, LSC (as they were called then) spotted ADM a sizeable lead. It wasn't the cheers of "Fabilioh" or "Halikinu" that got the team back into the match, but "Daddy Cool," a popular rock 'n roll tune back then. The Blue Babble Battalion also featured a full brass band along with someone who also played an electric guitar.
The cost of a reserved seat (as the patron section was called back then) was Php 3.00. But it did not matter as everyone sat in the bleachers where tickets cost Php 1.00.
The following day, the late-journalist and television personality Joe Quirino visited the campus in Loyola Heights expecting to find a festive atmosphere. Instead the college was stone-cold quiet.
Quirino met up with the team's Spiritual Adviser and PT Fr. James B. Reuter S.J.
"Good morning, Father. Where are the boys?"
"Oh, they're in their classes taking their semestral exams," replied the Jesuit nonchalantly.
"After winning a championship?" asked the media man with raised eyebrows.
The good priest took Quirino by the arm as he showed him around Kostka Hall to check up on the players who were lost in thought as they took their tests. "Our players are students first and incidentally basketeers. We do not grant them favors just because they won a championship."
"Don't you think that they're tired after winning the championship?"
Fr. Reuter then explained that the team lost 30 players on both Team A and B between 1956 and 1958 owing to academic deficiency and breach of team discipline. "That's their lookout. Our players must have good grades to remain on the team. It is unfair to make a boy into a bum by passing him. They cannot be basketball players forever. They have to earn a living and basketball cannot teach them that."
Jimmy Pestaño graduated that year but instead of playing pro ball in the MICAA, he went corporate where he joined a multinational oil company. It was a part of an employee's training back then that they had to pump gas for a while to learn servitude and humility. When word got out that the former Ateneo cager was working in a gas station, former foes from LSC and SBC would pass by in their cars and derisively ask Pestaño to fill up their tanks and wipe the windshields of their cars .
Pestaño recalls it was difficult at first as he had to swallow his pride. More so because those who taunted him where cagers who he easily beat with a drive to the basket or a fallaway jumpshot. He eventually rose through the ranks and later migrated to Canada. He had the last laugh. But those days of balling with Ed Ocampo, Bobby Littaua, and his teammates remain a good memory. As is that victory against La Salle.
Mr. Pestaño's son, Mike, was my classmate and kabarkada later on in college. I got to personally meet Mr. Jimmy later on and he is a true gentleman. Retired now and back in the Philippines, he serves as an officer of the Ateneo dorm association.