MANILA, Philippines – Last year, the Ateneo Blue Eagles were crowned UAAP champions.
In that same year, the UP Fighting Maroons were nowhere even near that status. They weren’t even in the Final Four, as has been the case for the last two decades.
But what a difference a year makes.
Heading into the Season 81 Finals, the Maroons and Eagles now see each other eye-to-eye with a clean slate. Both teams are just a pair of wins away from the very top.
While Ateneo is steadily cruising, UP is rewriting history with every added win.
Still, everyone knows that one team’s home stretch is a bit steeper than the other. Even UP head coach Bo Perasol has no qualms in admitting it.
“No basketball aficionado in his right mind would probably give us a good chance against Ateneo,” he said right after completing an improbable sweep of the twice-to-beat Adamson Soaring Falcons.
“But then again we would want that. We want the tag that UP doesn’t stand a chance against Ateneo.”
“There is something that we do that’s going to keep us going forward looking into that championship game against Ateneo, and we know we could take something from that,” he continued. “The courage, the resilience, our feeling that we need to keep moving and keep fighting no matter what the odds are. That had been our team principle in this season.”
Perasol is now the first coach to lead UP to a finals berth since the legendary Joe Lipa in 1986.
While Lipa had the legendary trio of Benjie Paras, Ronnie Magsanoc and Eric Altamirano under his wing, Perasol is trying to lift his own wards Paul Desiderio, Bright Akhuetie and Juan Gomez de Liaño to that same lofty status.
In the process, his team had to go through a 1-3 stretch in the beginning of the season, and basically, three straight do-or-die contests near the end of it. It hasn’t been the easiest of roads by any means, but Perasol is thankful for the path they have chosen to take.
“It gives us a semblance of confidence in ourselves that despite what we have, despite the mismatches and all of those that we experienced, if we can be resilient, we can still pursue our dream of winning,” he said.
“We won in our first knockout game against Adamson, we won before in overtime and we won [Game 2]. We’ve gone through so many knockout matches. That should make us better going into the Ateneo game.”
The underdog Maroons have gone above and beyond the goal they set for this season, but Perasol no longer has time to entertain complacency.
“The burden now is not about winning the game. It’s all about making an impact to a community that is very hungry for winning,” he said. “For 30 years, butt of jokes. No bragging rights. Kung makikita mo, nagkakaroon sila ngayon ng bragging rights and at the same time, a moment that could unite them in a way na pwede tayong magsama-sama dito kahit magkakaiba tayo ng paniniwala sa pulitika, sa kahit saan man.”
(If you can see, they now have those bragging rights and at the same time, a moment that could unite them in a way that we could be together despite differences in political beliefs or anywhere else.)
It took UP 32 long years to get back near the top. They might as well prove even further why they got there in the first place. – Rappler.com