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Farewell, Coach Baby

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Colleagues, ex-players pay tribute.

Philippine basketball has lost one of its pillars and acknowledged as the ultimate coaching guru after Virgilio ‘Baby’ Dalupan passed away Wednesday night at age 92.

The man popularly called “The Maestro” has battled several illnesses the past few years, mainly due to his age, and eventually lost his sight.

But this did not deter Dalupan from attending few but momentous basketball events, the last of which was the launching of his book titled “The Maestro of Philippine Basketball” during his 92nd birthday last year held at the Ateneo de Manila University.

Dalupan holds the distinction of being the first-ever PBA coach to record a rare grandslam when he guided Crispa to a triple crown feat in 1976. He also held the title as the league’s winningest coach with 15 PBA jewels which was eventually surpassed by a self-confessed fan of his, Tim Cone.

“I’m so heartbroken. We lost a truly good man and the greatest coach. I will miss him terribly,” said Cone, now the coach of popular team Barangay Ginebra San Miguel via his Twitter @manilacone.

“What I will remember about Coach Baby is how far ahead of his time he was, and what a wonderful father he was to his daughters,” said Cone as he added a hashtag #GOAT on his post which meant Greatest Of All Time.

Dalupan started his coaching career in the collegiate level through the University of the East Red Warriors in the UAAP where he won 12 titles, and then added two more in the NCAA when he led the Ateneo Blue Eagles to back-to-back titles in 1975 and 1976.

In the PBA, Dalupan captured nine championships with Crispa, including the 1976 trifecta, before adding five more with Great Taste in the 80s and his last with Purefoods in 1991.

He returned to his alma mater Ateneo in 1993, which was his last coaching stint before calling it a career that spanned nearly five decades.

While no official tally will state Dalupan’s exact number of basketball crowns, several historians have stated that Dalupan has bagged a total of 52 basketball crowns since he started his career with the Red Warriors in 1957.

“He paved the way for all of us coaches, kung wala siya wala kami dito taking a career as professional coaches. We all owe that to him, he’s a coaching icon,” said Rain or Shine mentor Yeng Guiao, who considers facing Dalupan when he was a rookie coach in 1989 as one of his career highlights.

“No local coach commands respect as much as he does, and we all recognize that high ground that he established in the basketball community. Some of the principles that I practice can be attributed to his influence in my coaching philosophy,” added Guiao in a phone interview.

Former PBA mentor and Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes also has high respect to Dalupan.

“What a sad day for Phil basketball,” said Reyes, who considers Dalupan as ‘inspiration, mentor, friend’ in his account @coachot. Reyes owns the most number of Coach of the Year honor with five and given annually by the PBA Press Corps that is named after Dalupan.

PBA commissioner Chito Narvasa, who played for Dalupan in Ateneo that won a championship in the 70s, said that Dalupan is a ‘great Philippine basketball hero’ who has remained humble.

“All throughout his career, he conducted himself with integrity, dignity, class, decency, and respect for others. Yet in spite of all his achievements and recognitions, the man remained incredibly humble,” said Narvasa via the league’s official Twitter account @pbaconnect.

“He raised the prestige of a basketball coach so high that he inspired many others to follow in his footsteps,” Narvasa added.

The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) under new President Al Panlilio, also issued a statement, mourning the passing of a head coach who once called the shots for the national team.

“We in the SBP deeply mourn the passing of Coach Baby Dalupan,” said in the SBP statement. “We will miss Coach Baby but will fondly keep him in our hearts and minds, always remembering his immeasurable contribution to Philippine Basketball.” (WAYLON GALVEZ • DENNIS PRINCIPE)