Only a few players has had a success both as player and coach.
Philip Cezar, one of the greatest ever players Philippine basketball has ever produced, also had success in the coaching scene.
Known as “The Scholar” for his intelligent plays while he was still playing for the storied Crispa Redmanizers, he won a total of 15 championships as a player. He was a former Most Valuable Player in the PBA, became the league’s original “Tapal King” and was regarded as the “King of the Hard Court” at the height of the One-on-One Competitions, against fellow cage great Ramon Fernandez.
At Crispa, Cezar became a part of its two grand slam teams in 1976 and 1983 before the team disbanded at the end of the 1984 season.
He won two more championships at the twilight of his career — one in 1987 with Crispa and in 1991 with Ginebra San Miguel in a dramatic finish that saw Rudy Distrito delivering the game-winning basket.
When Cezar joined forces with the Living Legend Robert Jaworski at Ginebra’s coaching staff, they’ve won the 1997 Commissioner’s Cup.
In 2000, Cezar guided the San Juan Knights to the championship of the Metropolitan Basketball Association. He concentrated in his political career shortly after as Vice Mayor of the city and got contented coaching in small time collegiate leagues and won a championship for the PSBA Jaguars a few years ago.
When Manila joined the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League, a precursor of the MBA, the nation’s capital headed by Mayor and former President Joseph Estrada decided to name his sports czar as the head coach of the team.
Quickly, Cezar assembled a team teeming with talent and carried the squad all the way to the semifinal round of the northern division of the tournament.
Cezar saw similarities of his current squad to the ones he handled before in the MBA.
“I think they’re similar in terms of firepower,” added Cezar. “Just like San Juan before, this team, Manila, has the capabilities to win a championship as well.”
But Cezar knows it won’t be easy.
Standing in the way of his squad is the team being handled by Jojo Lastimosa — the Bataan Risers — which ended up as the No. 1 squad in the elimination round and went on to make it to the Final Four.
It will be a classic match up for the two powerhouse squads not only because of their superior line up, both also the coaching duel of two of the greatest players the local basketball circuit has produced.
Once The Scholar gets past his semifinals rival, his team is close to get into the summit following a steep climb that stretched from June of last year and likely to end either late April or early May. Cezar believes there’s no turning back and he knows his Manila team can get the job done as long as they work together.
Rey Joble is a member of the PBA Press Corps and Philippine Sportswriters Association.