Friday, September 14, 2012

Norman Augustus Black

Nor·man n.:  A descendant of this people, especially one ruling or inhabiting England from the time of the Norman Conquest.
Au·gus·tus n.:  Roman statesman who established the Roman Empire and became emperor in 27 BC.

Norman Augustus Black. Conqueror.
It is a name that speaks of conquest and success, but words alone are never enough for a true leader. His deeds and actions are his only yardstick and it would be unwise not to follow such a man's lead.

Right after UST lost the first finals game of UAAP season 75 against Ateneo, coach Pido Jarencio let out a barrage of accusations. Yes, it could have been the frustration talking, but, among the many statements he made, he included one that accused the referees of siding with a foreigner coach when Filipinos should be siding with each other. Aside from it sounding desperate, it also had unprofessional and racist undertones. The Ateneo head coach could have kept his silence like he always had in the past and ignored those comments; that was his way. In what I think may have been a calculated move to bring focus back on to the hard court and swing sentiment back to middle ground, Coach Norman Black instead said Jarencios words were "mean and uncalled for", (not to mention having racist undertones). He then proceeded to spout out statistics regarding the number fouls called and free throws attempted during the game that clearly showed that if there ever was any bias it wasn't in favor of the team in blue. That was also his way, always understated and measured. On the other hand, when asked about the comments made by Coach Norman, Coach Pido answered: "Pakialam ko sa kanya" ("What do I care about him"). Yeah, right, good comeback...sigh...

When asked to write about the 2008 Blue Eagles in "To give and not to count the cost", a book honoring Ateneans who stood out in it's last 150 years, he entitled the piece "My Idols". In it, he said, "The 2008 team will always stand out as a very special group who set aside their individual aspirations to bring the UAAP trophy back to the Loyola campus". That concept of team play and fighting for the greater good has always been the Jesuit way and stands out as one of the hallmarks of Norman Blacks coaching philosophy. Well, that and great defense.

A host of serendipitous events over the last 30 years has brought Black to where he now stands, as head coach of the Ateneo Blue Eagles that completed a 5-peat championship run.

Norman Black has journeyed far, having first played college hoops at Saint Joseph's College in Pennsylvania and later in the CBA and NBA. In 1981, at the age of 23, he was offered a job in the Philippine Basketball Association where he racked up impressive numbers, averaging a whopping 51 points per game in his first 14 games. Since then, he has made his mark and changed the landscape of Philippine basketball.

In 1985, while he was associated with the San Miguel Beermen, former Ambassador Danding Cojuangco asked him to try his hand at coaching, although at that time he was reluctant to do so. However, in 1989 as a playing coach, he managed to guide the Beermen to a rare grandslam finish. This was only the third time in PBA history that this has been achieved (only 4 coaches have managed this) and I believe the only time by a playing coach. He has won a total of 9 championships with the SMB franchise. 

in 1991, ten years after his arrival in the PBA, he retired as a player and focused on coaching full time. In that time has come into contact with some very big names in pro hoops. Among them are personalities that have connections to the UAAP: Alvin Teng (father of Jeric and Jeron), Bong Ravena (father of phenom Keifer), Franz Pumaren (former DLSU head coach), and yes, even Pido Jarencio (UST head coach). He has also represented the Philippines on a number of international tournaments in various capacities.

This is where it gets interesting. In 2004, Black began his affiliation with the Ateneo basketball program as a consultant. After that first disappointing season, he was elevated to head coach and quickly stamped his exemplary style of coaching on the team. Being a very methodical mentor, he knew that it would take time for the team to gain enough confidence and experience to "get over the hump" as he called the difficulties they had to endure. Little-by-little they worked on improving and learning his system, and then came the 2008 breakthrough season.

In 2008 things began to fall into place. For one thing, charismatic point guard Chris Tiu decided to play out his final year of eligibility. This was a great confidence booster to the team and his leadership skills set the tone for that season. He brought the team closer and made them more determined to go all the way. The straight-talking coach quickly set out to work by setting goals that the team focused on. Unselfish play, speed, improved offense and great defense became their mantra. As the team continued their winning streak in the elimination round, they began to trust the coach and his system all the more. This bond was what carried them over "the hump" and into the championship. That team set the foundation that all future teams built on.

Since that 2008 championship, Ateneo has stung up an impressive string of Finals victories. Beating DLSU, UE, FEU (twice) and UST. They have the second longest winning streak in the History of the UAAP (the longest in the final four era). A number of his former players have found themselves in the professional league. LA Tenorio, JC Intal, Doug Kramer, Rico Villanueva, Larry Fonacier, Rabeh Al-Hussaini, Nonoy Baclao, Eric Salamat, Emman Monfort, Chris Tiu, and the list continues to grow.

Norman Black has gained a reputation as a great motivator and big-man coach. He has definitely carved out a niche in Ateneo basketball history that arguably reaches legend status. He has certainly left a legacy for future coaches to aspire for. His winning percentage in the elimination round of the last 5 years is an astounding .872, and his play-off average is about .910 (his only loss, to UE in 2009). I doesn't get better than that. Yet despite all these achievements he has remained grounded. A good friend overheard him tell his players after a won game "No yabang, ok guys?".

Surely the 2012 Championship is a fitting send off for the Ateneo head coach as he embarks on a new chapter in his storied career.

Norman Black has certainly given and he never bothered to count the cost.

This is a photo of the team carrying their mentor after winning the 2011 championship against FEU.

He almost always has this serious look and he almost never smiles. This is a rare event, coach looking relaxed and smiling before a game.

Of course there are times when it can be downright frustrating...

And times when obvious inconsistencies by the referees affect the game and clarifications have to be made...

His focus has always been about teaching and guiding his players...

And in the end it would have been all worth it. 

At last, if only for a while, the man can smile...

I felt that the last five years of Norman Black's tenure erased the ghosts of the past and wiped the slate clean. The team also gained that hard earned respect in the league. A lot of teams will admit that when they play Ateneo they always give something extra to their game. Hopefully, this tradition of winning continues, but the future will reveal what's in store in due time. In the meantime, the Norman Black years will give us a lot to talk about for a long while. Thanks for the memories coach.



  1. Hats off to a true BLUE leader... A leader who serves... a man with so much greatness yet very humble. You're such an inspiration, Coach! Thank you

  2. Thank you coach Norman for the winning years. May your tradition of DEFENSE in ATENEO BASKETBALL remain in the team and the community forever.

  3. Thank Coach Norman for bringing the glory days of UAAP basketball back to Ateneo... You indeed exemplified maturity to the league and to the game... A class-act beyond compare... More power to your endeavors and God bless you...

    (Sir Raddy, with your permission, can I have some of your photos here? I wish to use it as one of my FB profile picture... I am still not copying it awaiting your approval... Thank you)

    1. Sure, go ahead, have fun with it. Thanks for reading and your comment.

    2. Thank you very much!!! God bless us all...