Atoy Co looks back at ‘father-and-son’ moments with late Baby Dalupan

“Parang nawalan ako ng tatay.”

That’s how Mapua coach Atoy Co described his inconsolable feelings following the passing of legendary mentor Virgilio “Baby” Dalupan, whom he considers as the biggest driving force why he became as “a total package player” during a decorated 13-year career in the pro league.

Regarded as the most successful coach in the Philippine basketball history, Dalupan, 92, passed away early Thursday morning due to the effects of pneumonia at his home in Quezon City, leaving the local basketball community mourning.

And Co was the first among many who was greatly devastated with the development.

“Nalungkot talaga ako. Dala-dala ko pa nga pagpunta dito sa Arena,” Co, 62, told FOX Sports on Thursday following the Cardinals’ 60-65 setback dealt by the Jose Rizal U heavy Bombers in the 92nd NCAA seniors basketball tourney at The Arena in San Juan.

“Parang nawalan ako ng tatay,” he added, trying to fight back tears.

And nobody could blame Co for feeling that way.

Then one of the finest offensive collegiate players with the Cardinals, Co found himself playing in the pro league under the guidance of Dalupan with the Crispa Redmanizers that spanned for 10 years highlighted by a Grand Slam feat—the first in the PBA—in 1976.

Along the way, Co became one of the pro league’s superstars and he eventually claimed the most coveted individual plum in 1979 when he was named as the league MVP aside from being a familiar member of the Mythical First Team while playing the powerhouse Redmanizers side.

Dalupan, fondly called as “The Maestro” for his coaching wizardry underscored by more than 50 titles he won in the UAAP, NCAA, MICAA and PBA, was an immense influence on Co’s cage success.

“‘Yung 10 years ko sa Crispa, we’re really close. ‘Yung relationship namin, more on family affair,” he shared, adding he’s “one of the lucky players who was mentored by coach Baby D.”

While he could be remembered for his vast-offensive repertoire, Co could not help but be grateful that Dalupan has helped him transform into a multi-faceted player by honing his defensive skills which he then utilized in slowing down the league’s top scorers like Toyota superstar Sonny Jaworski.

“Ginawa niya akong defensive payer kaya I really owe him because with that, I was able to transform as a total player. I was just known as an offensive player,” he said. “Natuto ako dumipensa dahil sa kanya. Kumbaga naging total package ako as a player which helped me become successful in my basketball career.”

The self-discipline—on and off the court—instilled to him by Dalupan remains in full display for Co.

“Sa practice, kahit superstar ka, tapos na-late ka or hindi naka-attend without any excuse, ibabangko ka niya,” he shared. “As much as possible, you won’t take an absence in practice without any legitimate excuse.”

Co added Dalupan will always be one of the best tactical coaches in history, saying: “Magaling siya mag-identify and mag-exploit ng matchup. Sa coaching, kaunti lang instructions niya pero alam mo na dapat. That’s why he’s great. He has that magic on how to really do things. Proven naman kasi.”

Co also took some time to share what he considers as one of his most unforgettable moments wit Dalupan.

“Namura niya ako,” Co shared in jest as he recalled his on-court squabble with Crispa teammate Bernie Fabiosa. “During the game, nagkainitian kami ni Fabiosa kasi ayaw sa akin ipasa ‘yung bola. Nu’ng pinasa niya saka akin, binalibag ko yung bola sa kanya, sabi ko ‘bakit ngayon mo pa ipapasa eh kanina ko pa hinihingi. Alanganin na.’

“Eh nakita ni coach (Dalupan). ‘Pag halftime, minura ako. kung anu-ano raw ang pinaggagawa ko.”

That, however, won’t stop Co from tipping his hat—for the final time—to Dalupan.

“He’s really a legend and he has something magical in his coaching, kaya saludo ako du’n,” he concluded.  – By John Bryan Ulanday

Follow this writer on Twitter: @jbfu13