By Gian Go, H4F
Stallion Sports Editor
“It drove me personally to be my best when facing Xavier because I knew Eric would be there. It was an intense game every time but Eric would always dominate. Those battles were unforgettable and it made us good friends outside the court because we both respected each other. “ -BJ Manalo on Eric Yao
The mythical moniker King Stallion is something more than just a nickname. It is rather a responsibility—something that one had to live up to. He wasn’t just someone who the opposition was weary of because of his stellar basketball skills but also someone looked up to because of the way he handled himself off the court.
That has been the way for the last 50 years as different Xavierians had their turn to lead the Golden Stallions in various tournaments. Different King Stallions started taking their talents to the collegiate ranks led by David Wong and his teammate Eric Lim (XS Batch ’69) who were the first Xavierians to play collegiate basketball in either the UAAP or NCAA. (Both San Beda and Ateneo were part of the NCAA)
Xavier wasn’t all that dominant in the early years as we struggled against the tough opposition. In a more than two decade absence in the Tiong Lian, Xavier had difficulty finding the guy who could bring them over the hump. Someone who could single-handedly lift the team on his broad shoulders. That was when a high-scoring guard, by the name of Eric Yao, emerged and brought Xavier back to the map which is the reason the King Stallion moniker is largely attributed to him.
From an early age, Eric’s dominance in the game of basketball attracted attention and brought fear to his opponents. The great BJ Manalo recalls the first time he saw the King Stallion in action, “If I remember it right, I first saw him play in the SBP in 1992. Xavier usually out scores their opponents by 40 points and Eric Yao would easily score half of their points considering that the rules only allow a player a maximum of 20 minutes, playing 2 Quarters.”
Eric Yao was ahead of his time. BJ Manalo recalls that he was the tallest player on his team and also the one responsible to bring down the ball on offense. He played center and after rebounding a missed shot, he would dribble down the court and go strong for a lay-up. He could also shoot the ball well which is why he was virtually unguardable, if there’s such a word. “Because of his dominance, all of us were scared to face Xavier every time”, Manalo added.
Eric Yao turned out to be someone special and was in essence dubbed as the Savior of Xavier basketball. The Stallions would return to the Tiong Lian in 1993 and win its second overall league championship (after the 1972 season) under Yao’s stellar play. He was a tall and athletic player who had excellent handles and could shoot from deep with the greatest of ease. He was both a scorer and shooter since he shot the ball at a high percentage and didn’t need to force a lot of shots to jack up his scoring numbers despite facing tough defenses from the opposition .
During the 1998 season, Eric Yao will forever etch his name in the annals of Tiong Lian history as he averaged a mind-boggling 45.8 points per game which is still the highest in league history highlighted by a 54-point performance in the series clinching Game 2 against Chang Kai Shek as well as a career-high 64-point game against UNO High School.
Eric Yao would take his talents to Katipunan and join the Ateneo Blue Eagles for the 1999 UAAP season. He was primed to be a big contributor for the Blue Eagles who would feature a championship roster in the years to come. In his first game against arch-rivals De La Salle, Yao would score seven points but sadly had a severe knee injury which would cut his promising career short. He would never play in the UAAP again.
Yao has since taken his talents to the Xavier Alumni League where he still continues to display the skills which made him one of Xavier’s finest basketball players.
Although he never made it big in the UAAP or made it to the PBA, he has brought recognition and pride to his school. His stellar play turned out to be the turning point in Xavier’s history as three great players followed after him: Joseph Yeo, TY Tang, and Chris Tiu.
It is a sad fact that there aren’t any video clips to show the King Stallion in action. Tales have been told and the memories have been made. The mythical story of Eric Yao still remains a mystery. Only statistics can show his dominance but how I wish that we could have captured his brilliance on film.
The writer would like to thank the following people for making this possible. Henry Liao (XS Batch 72), Jonathan Richie Yap (XS Batch 94), Eric Yao (XS Batch 98), and BJ Manalo.