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Joaquin Rojas.

Joaquin "Jake" Rojas, who was fondly called "Dodong" in his native Maasin City, Southern Leyte, passed away last January 30, 2018 after a long battle of a lingering illness. He was 79 having been born on July 6, 1938 in Barangay San Rafael, formerly known as Bantig, in the then Municipality of Maasin. He owns the distinction of being the only Olympian from Southern Leyte which made him an awardee as Outstanding Southern Leyteño in the field of Sports several years ago.

The Maasin City Council, in a resolution, recognized his being an exceptional basketball player who played in the national team to the 1968 Mexico Olympics. Rojas is known for playing in the point guard position. He was a member of the collegiate varsity squad of the University of the Visayas and was part of the team that scored an upset against Ateneo in the 1957 intercollegiate championship.

Rojas went on to bring his skills at the Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletic Association (MICAA) when he was recruited by Julian Macoy to play for Yutivo in the 1960s but transferred to Ysmael Steel Admirals where he blosoomed as a star. He later joined Mariwasa with Narciso Bernardo and Edgardo Roque. When the Philippine Basketball Association opened in 1975, he joined the Toyota Comets and the following year 1976. He helped his teams won championships for Ysmael and Mariwasa in the MICAA and Toyota in garnering two titles during the inaugural 1975 PBA season.

Rojas was a member of the Philippine national basketball team from 1965 to 1971. He played at the 1966 Bangkok Asian Games where the Philippines lost to South Korea in the quarterfinal match failing to win medal. But Rojas assisted the national team in winning the 1967 ABC Championship crown in Seoul and then he competed at the1968 Mexico Olympics. In the 1969 edition of the ABC Championship in Bangkok, Rojas was with the national team that lost the title to South Korea settling for bronze.

In the Mexico Olympics, Rojas played with teammates Orlando Bauzon, Danny Florencio, Robert Jaworski, Jaime "Jimmy" Mariano, Alfonso "Boy" Marquez, Rogelio Melencio, Edgardo "Ed" Ocampo, Adriano "Jun" Papa Jr., Renato Reyes, Alberto "Big Boy" Reynoso, and Elias Tolentino, with coach Carlos "Caloy" Loyzaga, where they placed 13th.

"Without a doubt, Jake was the best court general in our period," said Valenzona in an interview by Rappler. "He was low key but very effective. He could shoot, pass, penetrate, and even rebound and I am taller by an inch," added Valenzona of Rojas who stands 5'8".

When he retired from active basketball, Jakero, as he is fondly called by friends in Cebu, became a multi-titled coach in the Cebu Amateur Athletic Association (CAAA) and the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc. (CESAFI) with the University of the Visayas Green Lancers and later with the University of Cebu Webmasters.

"A father figure, Rojas was admired and well-loved by all the hardcourt stars that went through his guiding hands," wrote Emmanuel Villaruel of the Freeman Cebu. "He also touched the lives of others and inspire them to excel in their field. Among them is Ramon 'El Presidente' Fernandez, per­haps the greatest Filipino basketball of all time who is now a public servant as Philippine Sports Commissioner."

“I think I was about five years old, growing up in Maasin, Leyte,” said Fernandez during an interview with Bill Velasco of The Philippine Star. “I’m the youngest of nine, with six boys. All my elder brothers played basketball. Every time Joaquin Rojas would come home, we would go to the pier to meet him because we knew that, in the afternoon, he would play with my brothers in the plaza." At that time there was no gym in Maasin, only an open basketball court beside the old municipal hall.

Rojas was nicknamed "Mr. Basketball" for his all-around hardcourt genius. He was immortalized into the elite Cebu Sports Hall of Fame. He was laid to rest at the Maasin Cemetery last February 5. On the same day, an exhbition game between his former UC varsity players versus Maasin selection was played at the City Gym in his honor.

Click here to view a list of other articles written by Maloney L. Samaco.

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