By Henry L. Liao
Carlos “Caloy” Loyzaga could well have been a big difference as a Knight in shining armor or even a Thomasian.
But in the end, “The Big Difference” decided to be a Bedan.
According to various reports, the do-everything 6-foot-3 Loyzaga sought to enroll at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran in 1950 for his collegiate studies following his days at the Padre Burgos Elementary School in Santa Mesa, Manila and then National University for high school.
However, the San Jose, Mindoro Oriental native backed out at the 11th hour when the then-Knights coach, Angel de Leon, allegedly gave him the cold treatment.
Letran had been a veritable option. Behind the legendary “Murder, Inc.” squad powered by NCAA Most Valuable Player Lauro (The Fox) Mumar, Herminio Astorga (who later became the Vice-Mayor of Manila) and Luis (Louie) Tabuena, the Knights romped away with the NCAA title in 1950.
Imagine if the Knights also had secured the services of Loyzaga that season.
Letran had scored nine consecutive victories in the six-school, double-round competitions. Only San Beda College (now University) stood the way for a 10-game season sweep and an outright championship by the Muralla-based school.
The Knights, though, were deprived of an unblemished campaign when they bowed to the Red Lions, 56-51, in their 10th assignment. In a playoff, Letran exacted revenge with a 66-55 rout of the Red Lions to capture the second NCAA diadem in school history.
With Letran out, Caloy thought of matriculating at the University of Santo Tomas. Before he could don the Glowing Goldies jersey, however, Olympian Felicisimo (Fely) Fajardo, who skippered the Letran team that grabbed the 1938 NCAA title and helped lead UST to the UAAP championship in 1940, spotted Loyzaga and brought him to San Beda, where he was the Red Lions’ head coach at the time.
Loyzaga entered the Mendiola campus in 1950 but he was declared ineligible to suit for San Beda in that year’s NCAA campaign due to residence issues.
The versatile slotman finally donned the SBC jersey during the 1951 NCAA wars, counting Ponciano Saldana, Eduardo Lim, Antonio Genato and brothers Pablo and Vicente Cuna as among his teammates.
With Loyzaga at the helm, the Red Lions proceeded to corral four championships over a five-year period, including three NCAA titles.
Caloy averaged nearly 20 points an outing as San Beda took the 1951 NCAA diadem.
The Bedans successfully defended their NC crown the following year, knocking off De La Salle, 50-39, in the finals before a huge crowd of 11,000 at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum.
The multi-faceted Loyzaga drilled in a game-high 18 points, including 10 in the decisive fourth quarter, and put the defensive clamps on De La Salle’s towering Rene Wassmer during the same stretch.
The Green Archers had rallied to take a 32-31 lead at the conclusion of the third canto. But Loyzaga staged a last-quarter one-man show. He swatted a shot by Wassmer in mid-air then dribbled through for a layup to bring the lead back to the Red Lions, 33-32.
After connecting on a free throw, Caloy chalked up seven more points to douse any comeback by De La Salle, which made just seven markers in the last 10 minutes.
In 1952, San Beda beat the tradition-steeped Yco Athletic Club, 29-28, in the finals of the prestigious National Open tournament behind Loyzaga’s 17 points.
In 1953, Ateneo de Manila, powered by the high-leaping and league MVP Francisco (Frankie) Rabat, took the NCAA crown away from San Beda, defeating the Red Lions, 63-59, in the finals.
The Blue Eagles made it two titles in a row the following season as San Beda was disoriented by the absence of Loyzaga for academic reasons.
With Caloy unable to impose his will at the shaded lane against the opposition, the Red Lions were badly beaten by the Blue Eagles, 74-65, for the championship.
Loyzaga instead spent the year 1954 suiting up for Yco Redshirts/Painters in the top commercial leagues. He powered the Don Manolo Elizalde-owned club to the first so-called grand slam (or Triple Crown) in local hoopdom with title victories in the National Open, MICAA and Challenge to Champion.
During the 1954 MICAA festivities, Loyzaga, then only 24 years old, defied the strongest opposition that Philippine basketball could offer by amassing a record-setting 195 points in 13 games for a mind-boggling 15-point average with the Painters. Yco downed Republic Supermarket, 2-0, in the best-of-three MICAA final series as the Painters’ “Great Difference” stepped up the gas in norming an eye-popping 22 points an outing.
In 1955, Loyzaga was back in the NCAA with San Beda, exacting vengeance with a 64-50 mauling of Ateneo in the finals and helping the Red Lions claim permanent possession of the much-coveted three-legged Crispulo Zamora Cup that goes to a three-time title winner.
From there, Loyzaga dominated the Philippine basketball landscape on home soil and in the international front.
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