Ex-Tigers remember coach who was also like a father to them
Close to 2,400 kilometers away, Gerard Francisco heard the heartbreaking news.
“He was like a second father to me,” the former Sta. Lucia star in the PBA and member of two University of Santo Tomas champion teams in the UAAP told the Inquirer over the phone after learning of coach Aric del Rosario’s passing just past midnight on Thursday. “I learned a lot from the man, not only about playing the game, but about life.”
Del Rosario succumbed to a massive heart attack, according to Francisco, who talked over the phone to Lester, the coach’s oldest son who was a teammate of Gerard during the Santo Tomas dynasty in the mid-1990s.
“He was in a very jolly mood in the morning,” Francisco quoted Lester as saying. “He was even cooking for the family in the morning when the [heart] attack happened. It was just one time and he passed peacefully.”
Francisco will forever be associated with the UST Growling Tigers and Del Rosario, the man who painstakingly built that team from scratch to win four straight titles from 1993—that year being the last that the league awarded the championship to the team that sweeps the elimination round.
Already a permanent resident in Singapore where his wife, Krista, is on the front line of the COVID-19 fight, Gerard had a lot of stories to tell during the time he played for Aric.
“Always go to bed early, because playing the following day lacking the needed rest is bad for your knees,” Francisco said in Filipino, recalling one of Del Rosario’s advice to him that he always heeded.
“His passion for the game and his eye for talent are what I remember most during my time with coach Aric,” Patrick Fran, a member of the sweep team, said. “I have never seen anyone have such an eye for talent that coach Aric had.”“Imagine, we had a player, Norman Loyao, who was a full-time seminarian,” Fran said. “That’s the eye that coach had—he enlisted a seminarian and I don’t know of any school in the UAAP which had that type of a player. And he (Loyao) was good—you can ask Johnny A (Abarrientos) because Loyao gave him all sorts of problems.”
Del Rosario, a scoring star for the then-Glowing Goldies in the 1960s, just turned 80 on Jan. 2. Aside from his exploits with his alma mater, he was assistant to Tim Cone during the most glorious years of Alaska in the PBA, counting the Grand Slam of 1996. He also was the first coach to win a title in the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association with the Pampanga Dragons in 1998.
But more than his contributions to the game he loved, Francisco and Fran knew exactly what coach Aric was to them.
“Definitely, it is like losing a father,” Fran concluded.