UNIVERSITY of the Philippines deserves all of the love right now in the UAAP men’s basketball world.
Stumbling to a 3-5 record after eight games and staring at another ouster, the Fighting Maroons got their groove, leaving everything on the floor to the delight of the Diliman faithful and eventually making it to the Finals after 32 long years.
Whatever the result of its championship showdown with Katipunan rival Ateneo, UP’s Cinderella run this season will go down as one of the league’s best underdog stories ever told.
For coach Bo Perasol, it’s all about giving it back to the Maroons community, which has been limited in the past few weeks as the school made its Final Four run.
“I’m just happy to be in the Finals,” said Perasol.
There’s graduating skipper Paul Desiderio, who scored his biggest basket of his life by nailing a short jumper off Sean Manganti that gave UP a thrilling 89-87 overtime win over Adamson Wednesday.
Also, there’s Juan Gomez de Liaño, who dropped a career-high 30 points in the Final Four clincher, and Nigerian slotman Bright Akhuetie, who proved why he deserves the MVP award with his gung-ho plays in the second half despite attack of cramps.
The Maroons’ supporting crew deserves also a lot of credit, with Diego Dario and Jerson Prado providing quality minutes.
“You have to find the courage, the skills, the talent and persistence to be in a place like this that we are enjoying right now. It’s wasn’t an easy journey, but it’s all worth it,” said Perasol.
The man of the moment who once endured UP’s 0-14 season in his collegiate career, Desiderio simply displayed no-quit attitude.
“Never give up. Kahit anong mangyari, kahit down ka man o ano, huwag kang susuko. May maganda kang mapupuntahan kapag hindi ka sumuko,” said Desiderio.
The Maroons lost twice to the Blue Eagles in the eliminations, including a 62-82 rout in the second round, but Perasol likes being the underdogs in the best-of-three series starting at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“No basketball afficionado in his right mind would probably give us a good chance against Ateneo. But then again, we would want that. We want the tag that UP doesn’t stand a chance against Ateneo,” said Perasol, who handled the Eagles for three seasons before moving to the Maroons in 2016.