Baby Dalupan, legendary basketball coach, dies at age 92

MANILA, Philippines - Virgilio Dalupan, the coach who ruled Philippine basketball from the 1970s to the 1990s, died at his home in Quezon City at the age of 92, his daughter Cecile told in a text message late Wednesday, August 17.

"We were heartbroken. He had been improving after getting pneumonia... but this is too hard," said Cecile's text message. She said Dalupan's body will lie in state at the Ateneo de Manila chapel. Details of the services will follow.

A medium built, quiet man who became a ball of fury coaching on the court, Dalupan's University of the East and Crispa teams dominated collegiate basketball, the Manila Inter Commercial Athletic Association (MICAA) and the Philippine Basketball Association.

In the PBA, Dalupan won 15 titles, a record that was surpassed only by Tim Cone in 2014, for Crispa, Great Taste and Purefoods. Yet for all his fame, he was lowkey, quick to deflect praise to others and was a regular guy.

Dante Silverio, his great rival in the early years of the PBA, said in a phone interview Dalupan "knew a lot from his experience as a player and coach.

“He was a tough opponent," added the former coach of the Toyota Comets, who won the first two PBA titles when the league was born in 1975 before Crispa won the All-Philippine Championship, a victory that led to triumphs in the next conferences,.

Bobby Rius, the son of the revered mentor Luli Rius and a guard of the Ateneo NCAA 1968 champion team, said in a Facebook message: "I remember my dad telling me ‘If you want to be a good player, play under Baby.’ Boy, how much I admired the UE team under Coach Baby." 

Dalupan, who also played football for Ateneo, was a speedy guard in the amateurs in the early 1950s before he took over as coach of the UE Warriors from Olympian Gabby Fajardo. He created a stir when he disrupted the stalling tactics of UST coach Herminio Silva, who led the Philippines to a bronze medal in the 1954 World Championship, and fouled to gain possession after the free throws. 

"We surprised them," said Filomeno Pumaren Jr, Dalupan's first star player at UE who later became his assistant.  Dalupan's first college title was in the 1956 intercollegiate when they stunned favored La Salle.

His best teams were loaded with shooters and scorers, heady guards, brainy slotmen and role players all following Dalupan's sometimes outside-the-box strategies which caught teams off guard.

"He thinks ahead... His timing in changing players were excellent, especially the matchup and rotation," said Rius.

His partnership with Danny Floro, which began with a handshake in the early 1960s, and lasted for at least 15 years, made Crispa a famous basketball team. It won its first MICAA title in 1970. Allegations that some of his best players were involved in game-fixing or point-shaving took a sting out of Crispa's momentum but Dalupan rebuilt Crispa into a potent quintet tapping college stars like Atoy Co and Philip Cezar. This was the core of its PBA champion team.

Only international basketball eluded him. He was selected to helm the 1959 squad to the World Basketball Championship but the team failed to hurdle the eliminations. The 1970 Asian Games squad was judged a title contender but they inexplicably faltered in the quarterfinals.

Dalupan lost his sight in his last few years but he would follow the games on audio. He surprised two writers interviewing him in 2014 when asked about the Gilas' team second place in FIBA Asia tournament here.

"My gosh, we were so lucky. If that team did not defeat South Korea, we would not have been in the finals," he said.

When the national team for the 2015 FIBA Asia tournament was formed, a reporter dictated the names to him. "Yes, Ok yan," he repeated. –