Head Coach Joe Lipa Jr., ever the mentor and tormentor, used more than a few words. To emphasize the import of his words, he would hark back to what he had already said, repeat it, this time accentuating his earnestness by chopping the air with his right hand and peppering his speech with OKs—as if to say, Are you listening to me, boys? OK?
On building character
(Number of times said: THREE)
“Boys,” Coach Joe said, in his gravelly, pongalangala voice. “So many people have taught you basketball: from your grade-school coaches to your high-school coaches. What we from the UP coaching staff really want to do is to teach you to be better men. To be good persons. Nothing is more important than that. OK?”
This is the essence of Coach Joe’s father heart, the kind that singles out character, and knows when victory is important or not important.
(Number of times said: FIVE)
The Coach, when it was his turn to speak, quoted from Coach Joe: “The road to success is always under construction.” I suspect this is where Coach Joe was coming from when he would, after already starting on another topic, suddenly remind the boys about training hell.
“Boys,” Coach Joe said, gripping the mike. “Starting next week, expect hell. OK?”
Variations of the same theme were minor:
That is Coach Joe’s philosophy: Work hard. Give honest labor.
- “We are going to start training right away. Next week will be hell. OK?”
- “Boys, expect hell! OK?”
- “We are going to work hard, boys. OK? Expect hell next week!”
On making good coaches
(Number of times said: TWO)
Turning to the other side of the lanai, Coach Joe faced his other “boys” and said, “To my coaching staff, you know that I want you to become good coaches. You also know that I am not fond of reading.* But because I want you to become good coaches and become good men, I have read many books on this, including the books of John Maxwell, so I can help you.”
Coach Joe’s strong personality and stronger convictions arouse either severe alienation or deep affection. He is like tennis star Rafa Nadal: he doesn’t leave his emotions in the locker room. He is like his friend,** Coach Bobby Knight (Indiana University): on and off the court, Coach Joe is intense and will make no bones showing what he feels.
Either you love him or you hate him.
I love him. Very much. I have witnessed through the years how he has parented The Coach as a high-school player who would hang out at the gym to watch the UP MBT practices, as a college varsity player under Coach Joe's tutelage, as a young husband to a skittish wife, and then as a coach who would strike on his own.*** I have seen how, when Coach Joe makes a decision, he thinks of what legacy he can leave the boys: he thinks of consequences, not rewards. When facing any crossroads in his life, he doesn’t have to struggle over what is right and what is wrong: he always chooses what is right. What he does struggle over are the consequences that his right choices bring to his family. But because he is deeply loved, his family—especially dear Tita Ging with her sacrificial heart—walks with him through life’s many unfair twists and turns.
Just as we, whom he counts as friends, also gladly walk with him.
Coach Joe inspires loyalty. I have yet to meet another coach who, without trying, has maintained such love and fidelity from his former players. The Coach, Coach Ramil Cruz, Ateneo Basketball Director Ricky Dandan, Rey Madrid (now an architect, who at one time also got to coach the UP MBT), Coach Bogs Adornado, NU Coach Manny Dandan (whose association with Coach Joe comes through his being Coach Ricky’s brother), and even the coaching staff of Ateneo, Coaches Sandy Arespacochaga, Jamike Jarin and Gene Afable, among many, many others****—all swear by Coach Joe’s friendship, integrity and basketball acuity.
Thank you, Coach Joe. Perhaps it’s true what you said before, that you would not ever get rich, but let me join the many who know that you have made our lives richer.
* The man who claims he doesn’t want to read has written two books on basketball: the iconic Brain and Brawn Basketball and A Basketball Coach’s Guide: Philosophies, Concepts, Strategies and Drills, two books that have helped and challenged many a young coach.
** Coach Joe considers the late Coach Sonny Paguia, longtime NU coach whom The Coach also loves, more his mentor and good friend.
*** I am possibly biased, for Coach Joe often advises The Coach, “Jo, love your wife. Love Janet.” (And though he is not Cebuano, Coach Joe says my name the Cebuano way, accenting the last syllable and adding a lilt to the end. No one else says my name like he does. Each time he meets The Coach, he asks, without fail, “Kumusta na si Janet?” Always. Gentleman that he is, at least to us coaches’ wives, he would apologize for how he or the game has taken our husbands away from us—this said with a slight, courtly bow and a kind pat on the shoulder.)
**** A young coach I met this year, wowed by Coach Joe, told me that he had felt his mind explode when Coach Joe re-introduced him to basketball, at the new things he was learning.