No one is more proud of National University’s UAAP Finals stint this season than Danny Ildefonso.
Ildefonso was just one of the thousands of NU supporters that came to witness the Bulldogs make history on Wednesday after beating the top seed Ateneo Blue Eagles, 65-63 in their UAAP Final Four knockout duel at the Big Dome.
I was then, a college sportswriter at the Varsitarian, the University of Santo Tomas’ official school publication, when I first saw the 6-5 pride of Urdaneta, Pangasinan play in the UAAP.
He was skinny back then, but he’s got the power on his legs to sky over his defenders and go for a thunderous in-your-face dunk. Ildefonso also possesses a deadly perimeter jumper and has great footwork for his size while playing for NU.
But despite all his basketball skills, Ildefonso couldn’t bring the Bulldogs to the UAAP Final Four during his stint with the team from 1995 to 1997. Lordy Tugade, who would later on become a PBA star, came in to form a deadly one-two scoring punch with Ildefonso, but NU still fell short in its Final Four bid.
Fast-forward 16 years later: Ildefonso, now 37, already in the twilight of his PBA career, watched behind the NU bench with his family on Wednesday.
For Ildefonso, he considers it a blessing to be able to witness a historic moment in his alma mater this season.
“Siyempre, masaya, proud ako. Di man namin nagawa iyun (help NU reach the Finals), at least, na-experience na rin naming mga matatanda yung makitang mag-Finals ang NU ngayon,” he said, smiling.
Ildefonso said the celebration at midcourt after Cameroonian center Alfred Aroga’s big rejection on Ateneo guard Kiefer Ravena’s potential game-tying layup, was already a prized moment he will forever cherish.
“Tingnan mo naman yung mga players, parang mangiyak na sa tuwa nung manalo sa Ateneo. Nakakatuwa talaga na makitanbg masaya sila (NU players),” he added.
As NU opens its UAAP title bid on Saturday against Far Eastern University at the Mall of Asia Arena, Ildefonso is confident that the Bulldogs are now poised to rewrite the school’s history – that of ending a 60-year UAAP title drought.