I have known Chito Loyzaga for a long time, since his college days and the MICAA, then in the PBA, where he had a storied career with Ginebra San Miguel.
We constantly got in touch, even beyond his playing days as he got me as one of his two consultants, together with Nino Sinco, when he was with the Philippine Sports Commission as a commissioner.
I got in touch with him following the news of Kai Sotto playing in Australia’s tough National Basketball League with the Adelaide 36ers.
I knew Chito played in Australia before his PBA days and checked if it was in the NBL. He said he didn’t, adding that it was before the NBL, which was formed in 1979, though he did play with most of the Australian players, who moved up to the professional ranks that year.
Actually, he played in an inter-city league in Sydney at the amateur level for several summers everytime it was vacation time in the Philippines. He could have played in the NBL, but only as an import because of his Filipino citizenship. Teams would prefer, of course, to get taller American imports.
But he stayed in the new amateur league that emerged after NBL was formed, playing for Sydney. Fact is, he even contemplated staying there for good as his team guaranteed his employment there.
This was the time when he was supposed to play for Tanduay in the PBA. He did play a game, but because of contract disputes with the Elizalde franchise, he decided to go to Australia and ended up playing there for two years in the early 1980s.
However, the lure of playing in the PBA remained as he signed up with then with Toyota after coach Ed Ocampo recruited him in 1983. When the team was disbanded, he went to Great Taste, then Ginebra in 1986, where he ended up playing until the end of his impressive professional career, including a stint with the national team handled by Sonny Jaworski.
Back to his Australian days, Chito described the pre-NBL days as a very physical league, similar to the PBA of yesteryears, and featuring European-level basketball.
He remembers Sydney, Melbourne and Perth as the strong teams that carried over to the NBL, meaning Kai will go to the next level teams.
But definitely, based on his own playing experience in Australia, he believes Kai will learn a lot in the NBL. More importantly, he will get the opportunity to be scouted by NBA teams, which keep a regular watch over this league.
Also, because of his Australian connection, Filipinos based in Australia, who are all agog with Kai playing in the NBL, Chito was asked to help connect them with the Sotto family, even assuring him that they will support Kai when he starts playing there.
Right now, I envy my good friend Chito as he is now staying in a farm in Canlubang with his family, (the wife, Toni is a Yulo), savoring the clean air and safe environment -- what more can you ask?
And I would like to thank him, too, for helping me help several community pantries in Mandaluyong. Same with triathlon president Tom Carrasco and sports patron businessman Alex Wang of Wangs Ballclub, which is celebrating its 25th year this year.