|The Last championship of Barangay Ginebra with Coach Jong|
Another partnership spanning at least 20 years comes to an end. Last August, Tim Cone and Alaska ended their 22-year relationship when the former jumped ship to become coach of the B-MEG Llamados. Now its Jong Uichico’s turn, reportedly moving from the San Miguel Corporation umbrella to the group of Manuel V. Pangilinan.
Rumors of Uichico’s transfer swirled around on various social networks early Wednesday. Uichico had wanted to hold off on the announcement until after his meeting with SMC president and chief operating officer Ramon Ang. Noli Eala, the sports director of the group, made an announcement on his Twitter account. “SMC is sad to see Coach Jong go after almost two decades with the group. But we wish him all the best. We are confident he will help the national cause,” wrote Eala. But even prior to Eala’s posting, several former players already wrote about Uichico’s departure. “To a man whom I respect very much and who played a huge part in shaping my PBA career, best of luck Coach Jong in your future endeavor!” wrote Danny Seigle, who began his career in the league under the auspices of Uichico with the San Miguel Beermen.
Rudy Hatfield, who is making his comeback with Ginebra, wrote: “Come back and get hit with the news that Coach Jong has parted ways with us. Great man. Great coach. Thanks, Coach, for being great for us.”
According to a source close to the Uichico camp, the coach asked for permission last Monday from San Miguel Corporation chairman Danding Cojuangco, who had been his principal for most of his basketball career. Uichico was part of a La Salle squad in college in the 1980s that was backed by Cojuangco, before joining the businessman’s Northern Consolidated national basketball program. Later, Uichico became an assistant coach for San Miguel and the head coach at La Salle before taking over the coaching reins of the Beermen. With his loyal ties to Cojuangco, observers said that Uichico has been lost in the shuffle in the San Miguel basketball operations group, which has been dominated by people close to Ang. Prior to the start of the season, Uichico was demoted to co-coach of Ginebra with Siot Tanquingcen after serving as the head coach of the team. Multiple sources confirmed that Uichico, who has won six PBA titles with San Miguel and two with Ginebra, will be joining the SMART-Gilas program as an assistant coach.
Uichico is no stranger to international competition. Apart from representing the Philippines as a player as part of the NCC program, he coached the national team to a fourth-place finish in the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, Korea. He also served as an assistant for Chot Reyes’ team to the 2007 FIBA Asia Championship in Tokushima, Japan, and was a consultant for Yeng Guiao for the national team to the 2009 edition of the event. His move to become part of the national team also mirrors the career path of his mentor, Ron Jacobs, who came to the Philippines to steer the NCC team. The head coaching spot of SMART-Gilas is still vacant, with incumbent coach Rajko Toroman still in Serbia without a contract renewal offer. Other candidates for the spot include Chot Reyes of Talk ‘N Text, Ryan Gregorio of Meralco, and Norman Black of Ateneo.
Uichico will be reunited at the MVP group with Norman Black, the Ateneo Blue Eagles head coach and Talk ‘N Text consultant, under whom the former started his professional coaching career in 1992 as an assistant.
The coach, who turns 50 this July, actually started his coaching career with the La Salle Zobel juniors team of the Green Archers in the UAAP before being tapped by Black to become assistant coach of the Beermen. When Black moved to Mobiline in 1997, Uichico remained as San Miguel Beer assistant coach, this time under Ron Jacobs. Uichico was elevated to head coach of the Beermen in 1999 after Jacobs was named consultant for both San Miguel and Ginebra, which named Allan Caidic as coach after the departure of Robert Jaworski. He quickly became the first rookie coach in the PBA to win back-to-back titles, which he did with San Miguel Beer in the 1999 Commissioner’s and Governors’ Cups. Uichico won a total of six championships for the Beermen, the last in the 2005 Fiesta Conference. As a result of a reshuffle among coaches of San Miguel Corporation teams, Uichico became head coach of Barangay Ginebra prior to the start of the 2006-07 season. He gave the Gin Kings a championship right in his first conference with them in the 2006-07 Philippine Cup and would lead them to one more in the 2008 Fiesta Conference. That 2008 Fiesta title with Chris Alexander as import is the Kings’ last taste of a championship to date. Last season (2010-11), Barangay Ginebra finished no lower than fourth in all three conferences and compiled a 34-24 win-loss record overall (0.586), which was second-best only to the 48-17 (0.723) of Talk ‘N Text. Despite not winning a championship, it was the Kings’ highest win percentage and most number of wins over the last four seasons. Still, Uichico was “demoted” to co-head coach with Siot Tanquingcen prior to the start of the 2011-12 season. Uichico’s eight PBA titles ranks fourth-most among all coaches in PBA history, next only to Baby Dalupan (15), Cone (13) and Black (10). His 378-252 (0.600) win-loss record as PBA head coach is the highest among the active coaches in terms of win percentage.
As a player, Uichico played for De La Salle in the UAAP and was part of the national youth team which won the 1982 Asian Youth Championships under Jacobs along with the likes of Hector Calma, and the late Teddy Alfarero and Alfie Almario. The 6-foot-1 Uichico never played professional ball in the PBA. He was one of only three players not selected in the 1988 PBA Draft along with Jun Tan and Jaime Mariquit. But he played in the PBA during the 1984 season when he was part of the NCC national team pool under Jacobs that played in the pro league as a guest team. Uichico averaged 6.8 points in 47 games. (souce: interaktv.ph)