Photo curated by Courtside Philippines

THE LEGEND164 

Tonichi Pujante recalls time when Letran won three straight titles in NCAA

by Niel Victor Masoy, August 15, 2019 10:39pm

The Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights have a total of 17 championships in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Seniors basketball tournament.

Three of those titles were seized by Letran in three straight years back in 1982-1984 (seasons 57-59).

Tonichi Pujante, who is now the NCAA season 95 Commissioner, was one of the key players in that Knights’ grand slam run.

And he shared with Courtside Philippines what he remembered during those times when the then Samboy Lim-led Letran squad was dominating the oldest collegiate league in the country. 

“Kami yung magkaka teammate nun. Kami yung nag grand slam,” said Pujante, who joined hands with Letran greats Lim, Romy Ang and coach Larry Albano in bringing the three straight titles for the Knights.

Letran won the first of those three straight championships by emerging as the top seed team in the eliminations in season 57. The Knights had two more wins than the second-seed team in the Golden Stags.

They then edged out the Golden Stags in a do-or-die season 58 Finals Game Three. Lim was famously remembered for playing in that game instead of resting in a hospital he was brought into after having an asthma attack after Game Two of the big dance.

And for the third-straight title, Letran swept the then five-team league (supposed to be six teams in total but San Beda took a leave of absence in season 59) that featured a double-elimination round format.  The Knights became the first team in NCAA history to win a championship without losing a single game.

“Three straight championships tapos unprecedented eight-game sweep. We were the very first team in NCAA to win a championship without losing a single game,” remarked the 5-foot-9 Pujante, who played the point guard position back then.

Pujante said the Knights beat the San Sebastian College Recoletos (SSCR) Golden Stags to clinch the grand slam.

“Actually nung third championship walang kalaban kasi sweep yun pero last game namin San Sebastian,” said Pujante.  

But Letran's dominance didn't stop in the NCAA.  

After the grand slam,  Pujante shared the Knights even extended their winning run to 22 games by competing against teams from other leagues. 

“After that we played yung mga champion, runners up ng UAAP (University Athletics Association of the Philippines). We also played in other leagues, actually yung streak namin umabot ng 22 pati sa Brunei,” said Pujante, who also played high school ball in the NCAA by way of the La Salle Green Hills (LSGH) from 1977 to 1979.

“Natalo kami dun sa inter-collegiate.”

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