Benjie Paras sees greatness in latest reunion with an old teammateBy Inquirer Contributor, Randolph Leongson |Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—What does one see in the “Point Laureate” when viewed from atop the “Tower of Power”?
Thirteen years since they last played professional basketball together in the hard court, Benjie Paras and Ronnie Magsanoc are reunited once again in San Beda, manning the sidelines for the school where their friendship started.
“We knew each other since high school sa San Beda, since 1982,” said the basketball star-turned-celebrity Paras.
The duo won their first title in the NCAA juniors division in 1982, with the center Paras in his freshman year and Magsanoc in his fourth year at San Beda High School. Paras, along with forward Joey Guanio, followed Magsanoc and his now-NU coach Eric Altamirano to UP, where they played under the tutelage of coach Joe Lipa in 1986. With the San Beda core, the Fighting Maroons ended a 48-year-long drought that year and took home the UAAP basketball crown against a mighty Jerry Codiñera and Allan Caidic-led UE Red Warriors.
Paras and Magsanoc continued their partnership in the PBA, when Formula Shell drafted Paras as the first overall pick in the 1989 rookie draft. Paras and Magsanoc won their first professional championship in the 1990 Open Conference against Añejo Rhum, a year after Paras made history by capturing the 1989 Rookie of the Year honors as well as the league’s Most Valuable Player award, the only player to do so in the history of the PBA.
“During those times, I could never have achieved those honors without him,” said Paras.
Soon, the two were named as members of the Philippine national team that finished with the silver medal at the 1990 Beijing Asian Games and were also named as members of the 25 Greatest Players in the PBA. Injuries both took a toll on the two, with Magsanoc retiring in 2002 and Paras hanging his boots in 2003.
But retirement only strengthened their friendship.
“Until now, we always see each other. We play basketball regularly with some ex-PBA players,” said Paras, who is a godfather of Magsanoc’s first child.
Paras said that Magsanoc deserves the position he was thrust into.
“After playing, he went straight to coaching. Mas deserving syang mag-coach since matagal na syang nasa coaching staff sa PBA,” Paras added. Magsanoc serves as an assistant coach to Ryan Gregorio at Meralco. He has been an assistant to Gregorio since the latter’s Purefoods/B-Meg days.
While Magsanoc takes the lead role as the Red Lions’ head coach, Paras is directed to help improve the skills of the San Beda big men.
“I am very happy and excited that we will work together at the same coaching staff. I am also happy that we will be a part of San Beda once again,” he said.
“Sana matuloy namin yung winning tradition ng San Beda,” which won five cage titles in six years, all under then-coach Frankie Lim. “Naka-back-to-back sila, [and] three-peat sa NCAA. Sanamakapag-champion din kami this year,” Paras added.
When asked if there is one thing that he admires most in Magsanoc, the gigantic Paras said that it would be “his dribbling and shooting skills. Hindi nagbabago eh. Mula noon hanggang ngayon, walang player na nakakalapit sa galing ni Coach Ronnie.”
“Nag-iisa lang si Coach Ronnie,” Paras said.