How PH five became the world’s No. 3By Manolo R. Iñigo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Perhaps only a few people now remember how the Philippines won a record third place in the 1954 World Basketball Championship of the International Basketball Federation (Fiba).
The Philippine basketball team, led by basketball greats Carlos “Caloy” Loyzaga, and Lauro “The Fox” Mumar, finished behind perennial champion United States and Brazil in Rio de Janeiro.
The other members of the team were Pons Saldaña, Florentino Bautista, Mariano Tolentino, Antonio Genato, Francisco Rabat, Rafael Barredo, Bayani Amador, Ramon Manulat, Nap Flores, and Ben Francisco.
The 1954 squad, recalls Loyzaga, considered the finest cager the country has ever produced, was among the tallest with its average height of six feet. The team’s average age was 23, with Mumar the eldest at 29 and Rabat the youngest at 18. The team’s overall physical attribute was above average, although experience and “abilidad,” the native guile, were its biggest assets.
The 12-man team was perhaps the strongest ever assembled by the country for any one particular international tournament.
Their coach was Herminio “Herr” Silva, one of the most successful bench strategists of his time. Despite his failing health, Silva spent long hours mapping out unheard-of tactics, some of which later helped revolutionize the rules of the dash-and-dribble game.
Not many knew it, but when Silva left for Brazil, he was already a very sick man. Still, he kept the pain and agonies to himself.
Silva had insisted that he’d be given the sole authority to select the 12 members from a lineup of 24 candidates originally chosen by a special basketball committee.
As expected, Silva named the very same team that he coached a few months back in winning the Asian Games championship, except for Francisco, who took the place of Rafael Hechanova, who begged off after he got married.
In Rio de Janeiro, the Philippines was bracketed in Group A with Paraguay and host country Brazil in the elimination round, with the top two teams from the four-group field making it to the finals.
The Philippines debuted by mauling Paraguay, 65-52, after trailing at halftime, 26-27, but lost to host Brazil, 99-63, in its second outing. The Filipinos, however, advanced into the finals when Brazil beat Paraguay, 61-52.
The Philippines drew the pretournament favorite United States for its first game in the final round and, as expected, the much taller and heftier Americans humbled the smaller Filipinos, 56-45.
The Philippines bounced back with a 90-55 shellacking of Israel, but lost anew to host Brazil, 57-41. Victories in their next three games, however, sealed third place for the Filipinos. The Philippines did not have to beat Uruguay to win the bronze medal because of its better win-loss record.
In their penultimate game against France, which the Filipinos won, 66-60, Mumar is best remembered for figuring in a courtside incident with 6-foot-9 French center Beugnot.
Mumar admitted with a naughty smile that he indeed intentionally spat on the eyes of the towering Frenchman during the closing minutes of the closely fought encounter. And while Beugnot was rubbing his eyes, the wily Mumar scored on an unmolested drive.
With a promised $10,000 bonus if it could finish third in the world tournament, the Philippines responded by upending solid pick Uruguay, 67-63, in their final appearance.
In the title match, the powerhouse United States won via a 62-41 spanking of host Brazil, which wound up second.
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