OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: PH in 1954 World Men’s Basketball Championship
By Eddie Alinea
Sat, 18 Aug 2018
This is the continuation of an article that appeared in last Saturday’s issue about year 1954 as the most memorable moment in the history of Philippine basketball. That first story dealt on the highlights of how our dribblers won, for the second straight time, the Asian Games cage championship that day being the opening of the 18th edition of the quadrennial competition among the region’s best and brightest athletes in two separate cities of Indonesia – Jakarta and Palembang.
Discussion of that historic and glorious moment won’t be complete without the equally memorable feat of the Filipinos in the Men’s World Basketball championship held six months later in Brazil’s premier city of Rio de Janeiro where they ended up third and went home with the bronze medal and Carlos “The Great Difference” Loyzaga being named member of the world’s mythical team.
That third place finish is, up to this day, the best by any nation in Asia and outside of the United States and Europe. Loyzaga’s accomplishment was the first for any Asian coming more than six decades before Chinese great Yao Ming duplicated the feat.
The irony of it all is, while Yao has just been recently elevated to the Internastional Basketball Federation Hall of Fame, our own Caloy has yet to be accorded the distinction. But that’s for the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, the country’s ruling body in the sport, to address.
The 1954 Philippine team to that year’s WC, was practically the same that won that year’s Asiad and is considered, up to this present time, the finest the country has formed for any international competition. Six Olympians -- Loyzaga, Florentino Bautista, Mariano Tolentino, Antonio Genato, and Pon Saldana, all of the 1952 Helsinki Games, and team captain Lauro ”The Fox” Mumar, 1948, London – and six standouts from the commercial,(MICAA) and schools (NCAA and UAAP) leagues in Francisco Rabat (Ateneo), Rafael Barredo (San Miguel-San Beda), Bayanin Amador (FEU), Ramon Manulat, Nap Flores (UST), Ben Francisco (PAL), formed the formidable lineup.
The coach was Herminio ”Herr” Silva, who also mentored the Philippine Asiad gold medallist side. The team’s average age was 23, with Mumar, the oldest at 29, and Rabat, the youngest at 18. Its overall physical attribute was above average, although the team was also rich in experience and “abilidad” a trait Silva’ boys showed in the tournament, particularly the wily Mumar.
Asiad team captain Rafael Hechanova begged off of the team after marriage and so did Jose Ma. Cacho, Eddie Lim and Ignacio Ramos. Mumar was named skipper and Barredo and Francico took the other vacant slots. Francis Wilson and Alfredo Sagarbarria were named alternates.
The Philippines was bracketed in Group A with host Brazil and Paraguay in the elimination round. The Filipinos debuted with an impressive 65-52 shellacking of Paraguay but lost to their hosts, 99-63. They, nonetheless made the final round when the Brazilians showed the exit door to Paraguay, 61-52.
Also advancing were the U.S. and Canada in Group B, Uruguay and France in Group C and Republic of China (now Chinese Taipei) and Israel in Group D.
Caloy was simply overpowering in his performance and along with Saldana, Flores and Bautista, took care of point-making. Mumar provided the leadership, while directing the tempo of the games. Spitfire Genato wowed both the opposition and the crowd with his speed and ball-handling while Manulat and Amador played cool and calculating.
The Filipinos drew the Americans in their opening game of the eight-team, one round finals and lost as expected, 56-45. In a replay of their Asian Game, finals, they bounced back into contention with a 48-38 repeat over ROC.
Another victory over Israel, 90-55, sent Silva and his boys to a return match against Brazil and, again, bowed, 57-41. A string of three successive wins followed in game 5, 6 and 7 virtually sealed the bronze medal although the Filipinos needed to beat Uruguay in their final assignment to officially claim the software.
While coach Silva earned the attention of the basketball world in his now famous “longest freeze” employed against the Taiwanese in their Asiad gold medal triumph May that year in Manila, it was Mumar’s moment to shine in Brazil where he showed how cunny and wily the Filipino players are.
In their penultimate appearance against France, Mumar made himself fondly remembered by basketball aficionados.
Already the crowd favorites following their 83-76 downing of Canada where they captured the fans’ fancy with an all-around proficiency and brilliance, Mumar, the captain, showed more of that in their 66-60 mangling of the Frenchmen.
During a story-telling session with reporters a few days after their arrival at the Memorial Café, the sports people favorite watering hole fronting the Rizal Memorial Coliseum, the “Fox” narrated his crucial encounter with French 6-foot-9 giant pivotman Beugnot in the closing minutes of the tight contest and the enemy leading.
This big man of the French team had been intimidating him throughout their encounter, he attested with a wide grin as his audience listened intently. “During a timeout, I asked to be excused in the huddle to drink water.”
“When I came back to our bench, hindi ko nilulon lahat tubig sa bibig ko, “he said in mixed English and Tagalog with his usual Boholano accent. “Pag-resume ng play, tao ko pa rin siya, binuga ko lahat tubig sa bibig ko.”
“Sus, kagulo,” Mumar exclaimed. “He chased me all over the court to get even, but I expected it. The referees saw what happened and threw him out of the game. I made the technical free throws and we won.”
Beugnot was later named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Photo: The 1954 Philippine basketball team in the Rio, Brazil world men's basketball championship.
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