The Philippines was still recovering from the aftermath of the 2nd World War. Looking to find new hope, the citizens of this great republic elected the original champion of the masses Ramon Magsaysay to lead the country. Magsaysay was the beacon of hope for a still reeling country. And, after just recovering from the damages of World War 2, the country was facing a new threat the ideology of communism was growing.
Sports became a huge part of the people’s lives during this time. It captured the imagination of the Filipinos and an escape from reality for the country. The country hosted the 2nd Asian Games with the Philippines ranking 2nd in the medal tally behind Japan. The men’s national basketball team, led by the great Carlos Loyzaga, grabbed the bronze medal during the 1954 FIBA World Championship.
In the local collegiate sports scene, the UAAP and NCAA were the two organizing bodies for college sports.
The state of the UAAP was very different back in 1954. The league was represented by 8 schools. The Big 3, represented by the National University, the University of the Philippines and the University of Santo Tomas, together with Far Eastern University formed the league in 1938. During the 1954 season, the league added 4 guest teams: Adamson University, University of the East, Manila Central University and the University of Manila.
Back then, National University was owned by the Jhocson’s. Yes, they share the same name as the street of NU’s address.
Mrs. Nelly Jhocson recalled how collegiate basketball was back then. According the Mrs. Jhocson the game was very different back then. The tallest player the team had stood at 5’11”. There was no recruiting wars as the players that were enrolled in their respective universities were the only once allowed to try-out for the varsity team. Far Eastern University were the favorites to win that year since they had a national team member in their line-up.
Unlike now, where the finals is a best-of-three, the championship then was decided on a single game. There was no game 2, no “bawi next time”, no “we’ll do better next game”, it was either win or go home.
As we all know, the National University defeated the Far Eastern University during the 1954 UAAP finals in a close affair.
After the game at Rizal Memorial Coliseum, the team had a quiet dinner at Manila Hotel to celebrate the feat then headed out to the compound of NU’s dean back then, the late great Honorio Poblador Sr., for the team’s victory celebration. Yes, the same Honorio Poblador that the school library is named after.
The victory celebration was just a quiet banquet. No music blasting from huge speakers and no bonfires, just a good time with friends, school officials, and family to celebrate the university’s championship.
NU’s victory over FEU, the same team they had to overcome to obtain their first championship, once again propels them on top of the UAAP basketball pantheon. Same result, different eras. A new age of Nationalians will celebrate the feat of not just their men’s basketball team but all their varsity teams. Together with them, every Nationalian from different generations are celebrating here, abroad, and even up in heaven.