Hailed by his peers and athletes as one of the best Filipino basketball coaches to ever call a play on the sidelines, Januario "Aric" Del Rosario passed away March 26 at the age of 80 as the entire country continued to deal with the crippling effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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According to close friends of the family, the warmhearted tactician was rushed to the hospital after experiencing difficulty in breathing. He then succumbed to a massive heart attack. Del Rosario was also said to have been tested for coronavirus, with the result yet to be disclosed.
When the news of his passing broke, many in the basketball community paid tribute to the man fondly called Tatay Aric. “This is one of the saddest and most shocking news that I received in my life. Tatay, papa, daddy, lolo, coach, and mentor Aric, thank you very much for all the lessons you taught me in every aspect of life," Del Rosario’s former player and current Ginebra skipper Scottie Thompson wrote in one of his social media accounts.
Del Rosario did not fit the mold of a typical basketball player —he stood 5-foot-6 — when he made his collegiate hard-court debut as part of the University Santo Tomas (UST) Glowing Goldies roster. That same group won the UAAP championship by defeating the Far Eastern University in 1964.
While his stint wearing UST’s signature bright gold jersey was already stellar, Del Rosario further solidified his place in the Parthenon of Philippine basketball when he took on the role as head coach of the school’s varsity team that was later renamed as the Growling Tigers.
Isa sa pinaka malungkot at nakakagulat na balita na natanggap ko buong buhay ko!😭💔 TATAY, PAPA , DADDY , LOLO , COACH AT MENTOR ARIC. Maraming maraming salamat sa lahat ng tinuro mo sakin sa lahat ng ginawa mo sa buhay ko. Ikaw isa sa dahilan kung saan ako ngayon at kung anong meron ako ngayon, hindi lang pala isa sa naging dahilan kundi ikaw naging dahilan! Hanggang sa PBA dala dala ko padin ang laging mong sinasabi mo samin. Magsipag ka lang, maglaro ng maayos magpakabait at laging madasalin may papupuntahan ka bata at higit sa lahat tanggapin anong meron ka ngayon. Kung gusto mo ng higit? Pagtrabahuan mo! Dahil sa mga linyang yan andito ako ngayon. Ang pinaka d ko makakalimutan na laging mong tanong sa mga player mo na galing probinsya ay yung may pera kpa ba? Laging sinasagot ng player wala na po coach sarili mong pera na galing sa bulsa mo yung binibigay mo sakanila. Yung tipong pinaparamdam mo hndi lang basta coach pinaramdam mo din samin na parang tatay ka namin kasi alam mo malalayo kamibsa pamilya namin. Coach A. Simula nung nakilala kita naging coach kita lahat ng pananaw ko sa buhay nag-iba. Lahat ng mga duda ko sa sarili ko kung kakayanin ko ba o hndi nag-iba. Lahat ng pagsubok na dumaan sa buhay ko hanggang ngayon hindi na ako nagduda sa sarili ko. Kasi tinuruan mo akong maging palaban at kayanin lahat. Sa lahat ng mga mura at suntok mo saaming mga player mo ramdam namin kung gaano mo kami gusto e push pa sa kakayanan namin. Haaayyyys😭💔 Ang mas nakakalungkot pa lalo is yung panu ka po kaya namin madalaw dahil sa mga nangyayari ngayon. Panu po kaya namin madamayan ang pamilya mo coach☹️ i pray na sana makagawa kami ng paraan para makasama ka namin coach at ang pamily mo. Again thank you for everything coach Aric!! You will be missed! And you will be always in our hearts! We Love you coach!!
Del Rosario piloted the Growling Tigers to their first 14-0 sweep in 1993, an incredible run that served as the foundation of their historic UAAP four-peat that lasted until 1996. A handful of his vital cogs went on to play in the PBA, including Dennis Espino, Bal David, Rey Evangelista, Patrick Fran, Chris Cantonjos, Edmund Reyes, Gerard Francisco, Dale Singson, and Siot Tanquingcen.
On the side, the Candaba, Pampanga native moonlighted as an assistant coach in the PBA, under longtime Alaska mentor Tim Cone. The partnership would produce the franchise's first-ever championship after the Milkmen beat Ginebra San Miguel for the Third Conference trophy in 1991. He would stay with the team long enough to witness the team achieve a rare Grand Slam in 1996.
“I’m broken up because of the loss of Coach Aric," Cone said upon learning of Del Rosario's passing. "I am sorry I can’t pay my respects to him and his family. He was such an influence early in my coaching career, teaching me about humility and compassion."
Del Rosario likewise steered the Pampanga Dragons to a championship in the now-defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association in 1998. He later served as coach of the men’s national team that clinched the gold medal at the 2003 Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam.
After stepping down as UST head coach in 2003, Del Rosario returned to collegiate ranks in 2012 and transformed the University of Perpetual Help System Dalta into a perennial contender in NCAA.
He coined Perpetual Help’s signature battle cry, “We stay together,” as he led the Altas to three consecutive Final Four appearances in four seasons. Aside from shaping Thompson into an MVP and a first-round PBA draft pick, Del Rosario also played a significant part in developing the school’s prized recruits such as Prince Eze, Jett Vidal, Harold Arboleda, and Bright Akhuetie, who now plays for the University of the Philippines. “We appreciate what you have done for our university. It was because of your patience and persistence that Perpetual Help was once again recognized as a team to beat in NCAA,” team manager Anton Tamayo said, addressing Del Rosario.
His last hurrah as a basketball coach came in 2018, devising game plans for the Parañaque Patriots in the MPBL. The Manny Pacquiao-bankrolled league described him as a "revered figure" that had "his fingerprints in the careers of his former players."
More than his contributions to the game he loved, Del Rosario will always be remembered for the lives he touched during his lifetime. As his fellow ex-Alaska deputy Chot Reyes lamented, “The Philippine coaching community has lost a great one."