This appears on philstar.com
A Growling Tiger Homecoming
by rick olivares
Practice for the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers was just about done. They were shooting free throws, the penultimate exercise (the last being the half court shot where the first to find the bottom of the net wins a thousand bucks) when Kevin Ferrer, called time.
The team has a rule: if anyone slacks off during practice, Ferrer will see to it that the erring player will do some extra drills and run suicides. Swingman Louie Vigil, the day’s culprit, complies without any protest.
Sometime after viewing game film of their next opponent (the Adamson Falcons), a few players stuck around for some shooting drills.
Then the door from the Ruaño Street side of the gym of the Quadricentennial Pavilion opened and in walked Cyrus Baguio.
The gym fell quiet as everyone gazed at Baguio who was now a PBA superstar.
The man who could have been king had not strode the campus since he donned the gold, white, and black. He looked around the three-year old gymnasium in amazement.
“I’m home,” Baguio pronounced as Ferrer reached for his hand in a mano gesture. The two were to star in a video shoot for Gatorade’s new Legacy campaign.
Aside from that, both Ferrer and Baguio share a couple of things in common.
For starters, they thought that they’d play elsewhere.
When Cyrus arrived in Manila from Cebu, he tried out for La Salle that was building its late 1990s dynasty. The Green Archers’ coaching staff was interested in adding him to their lineup with one caveat -- that he had to cool his heels on their Team B for a couple of years before he could move up.
Baguio was dismayed and he decided to look for another school.
The moment Cyrus tried out for Aric del Rosario in the old UST gym just across P. Naval Street, he knew he had found his new home in Manila. “Coach,” remembered Baguio, “was a tough guy. But we all loved him. And we were like his sons. And that made studying and playing for UST even more memorable and fun.”
As for Kevin Ferrer, he thought that he would play for the San Beda Red Cubs. His brother was studying in the Mendiola campus, and Ferrer, who at that time stood at 5’11” tried out for Ato Badolato’s perennial NCAA Juniors champions. However, his skills were nowhere near the level of his current game today and he was not picked up.
Undeterred, Kevin went over to UST where much like Baguio felt in the summer of 1999, he knew he had found a home.
Before the start of the video shoot, someone loudly opined that the player called “Skyrus” for his prodigious aerial feats, helped “build” the Centennial Pavilion because of his basketball accomplishments.
Baguio quickly dashed that notion.
He joined the Growling Tigers three years after UST won four straight UAAP Men’s Basketball championships. La Salle was the new league power. The holdovers of UST’s 1996 title team were seniors in 1999 when Baguio was a freshman. They met the Green Archers in the Finals where the Taft school had its revenge as they defeated the Tigers for their second straight title.
“It was painful,” remembered Baguio of that loss. “Everyone was crying in the locker room. It was there where we all swore to bring back the coveted college basketball trophy to España. But Baguio, along with Alwyn Espiritu, Christian Luanzon, and Niño Gelig were unable to bring back UST to its glory days.
Ferrer can only empathize. While in high school, he watched as Jervy Cruz and Dylan Ababou led UST to a championship in 2006. As a high school senior, Kevin led the Tiger Cubs to the Juniors Finals in 2010 only to lose to Ateneo and its Big Three of Kiefer Ravena, Von Pessumal, and Paolo Romero. Two years later, his Growling Tigers were once more denied by Ravena and company. Although UST returned to the finals in Season 76, they fell to La Salle in painful and devastating fashion.
Both Baguio and Ferrer came to UST after the title years and they have tried to scale the Mount Olympus of Philippine college hoops only to be rebuffed.
While Baguio has won a few titles in the PBA being unable to help UST to a UAAP championship still eats at him.
Likewise, the losses still sting Ferrer but he remains undaunted. “Laban lang. Subukan natin ulit. Ganyan talaga kasi. Hindi pwede mag-give up.”
Both Baguio and Ferrer compare notes about their earlier years. And that leaves them in stitches.
Before practices, Baguio and company used to jog around the football field under the sweltering hot sun. Sometimes they would hide behind the grandstand to cheat on their runs. Except they’d always get caught as Aric del Rosario, even at his older age, was usually right behind them.
Ferrer laughed. Before the Pavillion opened, they did the same and ducked inside the comfort rooms where they splashed water all over the faces as if they were drenched in sweat.
Baguio recounted how they never were able to recruit players and relied mostly on homegrown talents and walk-ins.
“Ganyan pa rin kami,” chimed in Ferrer. “Pareho pa rin.”
“Marami tayong similarities,” summed up Baguio. “Pero, ikaw Kevin, mayroon ka pang dalawang pagkakataon magbigay ng championship sa ating iskwelahan. Ako wala na. Lead mo yung team na ‘to. Bigay niyo lahat.”
As Ferrer did a few more scenes for the video shoot, Baguio acquiesced to photos with UST’s men’s and women’s volleyball teams as well as some students. Then he looked around then walked up the huge sticker of a growling tiger at the center of the court (for a photo op).
Baguio threw up his arms ala Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic then said…