It may be hard to imagine for some, but Mariano “Nonong” Araneta — who is and will always be known for his contributions to football in the country — nearly played in the Philippine Basketball Association.
Yes, in the PBA.
The current Philippine Football Federation president played both varsity football and basketball for the University of the Philippines during his college years, where he took up Civil Engineering.
Araneta — who was born and raised in the country’s football hotbed Barotac Nuevo — played the point guard position. The skills that he had developed in the pitch then helped him on the hardwood.
“I was a point guard, and because of my training in football, I was playing defense in basketball. Anybody who was a shooter, I was assigned to guard because my reflexes are better,” Araneta recalled in Tiebreaker Vodcasts’ Crossover podcast, presented by SMART and hosted by Cedelf Tupas.
“And in basketball, in the UAAP, I was having a lot of interceptions because I can run backwards. Kapag magfa-fastbreak sila, eh ang ordinary basketball player, he cannot get that ball. Sa basketball, sige fastbreak ka, I can catch and get the ball. In 1 against 2, our hands as football players are faster because we use the foot.
“So your feet are fast, naturally, your hands are faster so you get a lot of interceptions. ‘Yun ang advantage ng football player, and ‘yung stamina. As long as you’re not in foul trouble, babad,” he added.
It was around 1974 where the late Olympian Fely Fajardo, who was handling the men’s cage squad, was recruiting him to become a member of Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletic Association (MICAA) team Mariwasa’s development team.
“Si Fely Fajardo, parang nung 1974, he told me ‘I want you to be part of the farm team of Mariwasa, like a development team. Because once you graduate from UP, we want to get you for Mariwasa’,” said Araneta, as he recalled joining the likes of Cisco Oliver, Adriano “Jun” Papa, Danny Florencio, and Epoy Alcantara in Mariwasa’s practices.
“They give you an allowance every month. Basta the agreement is when you graduate in UAAP, you play for the club.”
Araneta shared that he was already part of the team and was all set to play for the Recorders in the MICAA Invitational. But some of the team owners then decided to cut ties with the league and the old Basketball Association of the Philippines.
Those teams, including Mariwasa, would go on to form the PBA, which is Asia’ first-ever play-for-pay league and the second oldest professional basketball league existing in the world after the National Basketball Association.
“I was already part of the team. I have my uniform because we were getting ready for the Invitational. But I guess, that’s the time where the MICAA owners decided to get away from BAP and put up PBA,” said Araneta.
“So hindi natuloy ‘yung MICAA Invitational. They went straight to the PBA already.”
And that’s when Araneta heard Fajardo ask him if he would want to play professionally by joining the Emerson Coseteng-owned Mariwasa in the PBA. But ultimately, he declined, as academics were his top-most priority.
“Sabi nga ni Fely noon sa akin, ‘Bata, ano pro?’ Sabi ko, ‘sir, tapusin ko muna ‘yung pag-aaral ko sa UP’,” said Araneta. “I said no, I have to finish Engineering first. Buti sana kung ano, pero I was taking Engineering, so very taxing also.”
Everything turned out just fine for Araneta, though, even if he turned down the opportunity to play in the PBA.
Eventually, the three-time UAAP Football champion finished his Engineering degree and went on to play for the Philippine team from 1975 to 1985. Then in 1993, he served as the chief mentor of the national team in the Philippine International Football Cup.
Ultimately, in 2011, he was elected as the president of the PFF, and he has since been overseeing the growth of the sport in the country.