This Day in PBA History: San Miguel wins All-Filipino title, books Asian Games berth

Rey Joble

Posted at May 27 2022 07:35 PM

Just a year after the old Purefoods franchise got the monkey of its back by beating San Miguel Beer for the first time after numerous championship wars, the Beermen got immediate payback. 

In the 1994 All-Filipino best-of-seven finals, coach Norman Black’s more experienced crew outplayed coach Chot Reyes and his troops.

On top of winning the championship was the right to represent the Philippine men’s national basketball team to the Hiroshima Asian Games as part of the agreement between the PBA and the Basketball Association of the Philippines, then the country’s governing basketball body.

But prior to beating the Ice Cream Stars, the Beermen endured the challenge of their more familiar rivals, who were coming off an emotional playoff victory over Swift.

By winning six of eight games in the semis, Swift set up a playoff match with Coney Island, which just lost Bong Ravena to an injury in the first half.

But veteran Manny Victorino stepped up and did a great job shackling the Mighty Meaties’ emerging top gun Vergel Meneses as Coney Island pulled off an 86-74 win in the playoff.

Coney Island carried that winning run all the way to the finals opener. In Game 1, it was rookie Ritchie Ticzon who sparked a 16-2 run before mainstays Alvin Patrimonio and Jerry Codinera, and another newcomer, Rey Evangelista, conspired to score the key baskets to help pull off a hard-earned 99-95 victory.

But the series took a 180-degree turn in the next three games as San Miguel asserted its dominance.

In Game 2, the Beermen’s defense shackled the Ice Cream Stars and Allan Caidic presided over San Miguel’s offense, knocking in 26 points and allowing his team to level the series.

Game 3 saw Coney Island, behind Patrimonio, holding its own against San Miguel, but a telling 12-0 run by the Beermen enabled them to put away from their rivals and take the upper hand in the series.

In Game 4, San Miguel put more pressure on Coney Island as the Beermen took advantage of the early foul trouble of Best Player of the Conference winner Codinera. San Miguel prevailed anew, 93-84, to take a commanding 3-1 lead.

As San Miguel prepared for a possible celebration, Coney Island came out with a now-or-never mentality. And one of those who rose to the occasion was rookie Vince Hizon, who knocked in three triples, helping the Ice Cream Stars salvage a win and stay alive in the series with a 97-86 triumph.

The Beermen had no plans to give the Ice Cream Stars a new lease in life, as Caidic became more offensive-minded pumping in 33 points to power his squad to an 85-74 victory and give San Miguel a ticket to the Hiroshima Asian Games.

Franz Pumaren, a backup point guard for Hector Calma and Ato Agustin, recalled how fortunate he was to be given an opportunity to play for the Philippine team nearly a decade since donning the national squad jersey as an amateur player for Northern Consolidated.

“I was coming off an ACL injury,” Pumaren said. “Nu’ng time na ’yun (1994), si Mon (Fernandez) medyo pababa na. Kaya nga nu’ng Asian Games hindi na siya naglaro. Kaya nga si Marlou (Aquino), an emerging big man na naglalaro pa sa amateur, kinuha namin. Pati si Jerry, Rey Evangelista, Alvin, Johnny Abarrientos, dahil kami ni Hec, coming off an injury. Si Hec medyo slowing down na rin. Johnny was really something else.”

Age and injuries had slowed down the Beermen and the team badly needed help in the Hiroshima Asiad. Fernandez decided to retire. Calma was in the lineup, but was unable to play.

Patrimonio, Codinera and Evangelista were plucked from Coney Island while Alaska decided to loan Abarrientos to give the team an insurance point guard.

From the amateur ranks, Aquino and Kenneth Duremdes provided the much-needed depth, yet the Philippine men’s basketball team finished only fourth after losing the bronze medal game against Japan.

Abarrientos considered that stint as one of the most unforgettable moments of his career as he dazzled on the hard court and made big plays with his nifty shots against the giants in Asia.

“It was memorable for me,” said Abarrientos. “At that time, ang laki kaagad ng role na ibinigay sa akin kasi nung time na ’yun. Pababa na rin kasi ’yung laro nina Franz, so kami na lang ni Ato ’yung parang nagpapalitan sa guards.”

It was also a surreal moment for Duremdes, an amateur standout back then, who got an opportunity playing alongside his idols.

“Gustung-gusto ako ni coach Norman noon, kaya talagang nagpakitang-gilas rin talaga ako, ensayo pa lang, just to be included in the national team,” added Duremdes. 

Evangelista considered his selection one of the biggest surprises of his career. 

“It was a surprise,” he said. “It was my first international tournament because in 1993, I was supposed to represent the Philippine team to the Southeast Asian Games, pero hindi kami pinayagan ng PBL. That could have been my first international experience. Pero hindi ko akalain na mapapalitan pala ng mas malaking tournament, the Asian Games. It was really a blessing.”

“I cannot forget, during the opening parade, talagang titindig ’yung balahibo mo. You were in the parade, dala-dala mo ’yung Pilipinas. During the games, maabot na sana namin yung bronze, but we lost to Japan. But mararamdaman mo talaga, kapag dala mo na ’yung Pilipinas, kikilabutan ka talaga.”