University of Perpetual Help System DALTA is not a prime destination for blue chip recruits.
But during his four-year stay there, Aric Del Rosario made things work.
Four Altas standouts — Harold Arboleda, Gab Dagangon, Jhong Baloria, and Bright Akhuetie — can attest to that.
When Del Rosario took over the program in 2012, the Altas were coming off a disastrous 5-13 campaign in Season 87.
What did he do? Well, the four-time UAAP champion coach pushed the Altas student-athletes to find their limits and break them.
“‘Yung advice niya lagi sa akin eh maging totoo lang ako. Kung may bagay ako na gusto akong sabihin sa kanya, willing niyang pakinggan eh. Wala kaming big man noon, tapos iba nag-aaway pa. Sabi niya, kailangan ko mag-step up talaga sa team ko at maging halimbawa sa kanila,” recalled Arboleda, who — despite being just 6-foot-2 — was a rebounding machine for Perpetual.
“‘Yun lang puhunan ko eh — tiyaga.”
Moreover, despite being new to the team, he made sure to embrace each player like his sons.
“Sobrang laking bagay ni tatay Aric, lalo na sa career ko kasi siya ‘yung nag-recruit sa ‘kin noon sa Davao,” shared Dagangon, who was a rookie in Season 88. “Sobrang laki ng naitulong niya sa akin.
“Hindi lang kasi siya coach kundi parang tunay na tatay at parang anak talaga ang turing niya sa amin.”
“Tatay Aric is like a mentor both on and off the court. He treated the team as family, not just players,” added Nigerian big man Bright Akhuetie, whom Del Rosario recruited in Season 90 before suiting up for one year under him next season.
“He was a father to us — loving and kindhearted man.”
The partnership between Del Rosario and Perpetual resulted in three Final Four appearances from Seasons 88-90.
Baloria recalled with fondness how the seasoned tactician acted both on and off the court.
“Grabe rin ‘yung sakripisyo niya sa amin. Gigising ‘yan ng 4:00 am para makarating sa Perps lang ng 6:00 am. Sa Mindanao Avenue siya nakatira,” shared Baloria. “Kami, mahihiya na lang kami kasi bababa lang kami sa gym. Siyempre, may nale-late at magagalit siya, tapos papa-Indian run na kami. ‘Yan ang pinaka-nami-miss ko sa kanya — ‘yung Indian run. Isang taong late, damay na lahat. Para sa amin din naman ‘yun eh. Iniisip na lang namin na makokondisyon din kami dun. Ayaw niya ng petiks. Lagi niya sinasabi na, ‘Gusto mo magpahinga? Doon sa sementeryo!’
“Si Coach Aric, sasabihin niya ensayo tayo, pero sa labas gawin niyo na yung gusto niyo. Tawa-tawa sa labas pero sa loob bawal na ‘yun. Pero gaya ng sabi ni Scott [Thompson], lalo na ‘yung mga kinuha niya na kapos, na kung may pera pa kami. ‘Yung pera niya naka-bundle ‘yan sa goma pero paglabas niya… ‘Yun, automatic na ‘yun.”
In Season 91, however, the Altas could not make it to the next round despite an excellent 11-7 slate. It marked the end of Del Rosario’s run in Perpetual.
Still, after leaving Perpetual in 2016, Del Rosario kept in touch with his players.
Dagangon, Baloria, and Baloria ended up playing for Del Rosario during his one-year stint in MPBL club Paranaque Patriots. Akhuetie, on the other hand, would leave Perpetual in 2017 to transfer to University of the Philippines.
Wednesday evening, they received crushing news that their second dad had passed away.
Up to this day though, all four remain grateful for the opportunity given to them by Del Rosario.
“Hindi lang siya concerned sa way ka maglaro kung hindi concern[ed] din siya sa magiging future ng mga player niya,” said Dagangon, who is currently playing for MPBL club Basilan.
“For me, he gave me the opportunity to play the game that I love here. He also taught me a lot about life. He got me to where I am today and for that, I’m forever grateful to him,” expressed Akhuetie, who is entering his final year with the Fighting Maroons.
“Ano man ang narating ko sa larangan ng basketball, ikaw ang nakatulong sa akin at sa marami pang iba,” said Del Rosario’s main gunner Baloria, who has found a home in MPBL team Makati.
“Malungkot siyempre kasi iba ‘yung natulong sa akin ni coach. Lagi niya sinasabi kahit sa MPBL na bumubuhay siya ng patay. Masasabi ko, ako isa sa mga nabuhay niya,” closed Arboleda, who has grown into a veteran for MPBL squad Zamboanga.