What’s this? The UP Maroons in the Finals? Of all the plot twists this year, this one is actually pretty awe-inspiring. Even if you are from a different school.
It has been 32 years since the UP Men’s Basketball team has reached the finals, 21 since they reached the Final Four. Let’s review the timeline of how the UP Maroons has finally built themselves a team for the ages.
1986: Revolution and a Ring
It seems the Maroons have a habit of winning every 30 years (or so). The last time they won in the UAAP was in 1986, and that came after a 46-year drought when they won in 1940.
The championship in 1986 came a few months after the EDSA Revolution. Lito A. Tacujan of The Philippine Star wrote then, “These are the Beatle diehards, the Diliman Commune cadres, the guys who stormed the Dean’s office, and barricaded the campus against the Metrocom. When they regrouped at EDSA, People’s Power was an old exercise. But not for a UAAP crown.”
That championship made stars out of Ronnie Magsanoc and Benjie Paras, but it was team captain Eric Altamirano (who has led the NU Bulldogs to a championship in 2015 as head coach) who was the team’s hero in that run.
It would be a running joke. “May basketball team pala ang UP?” “Matalino masyado, exempted na naman sa Finals.” Though the Fighting Maroons would reach the semifinals in 1996 and 1997, the win columns were woeful, especially as other teams would eventually build their championship dynasties.
There was no shortage in talent, as UP Fighting Maroons would produce several PBA talents over the years. But the team would be in the bottom of the race for several years.
The Fighting Maroons suffered not one, not two, but three winless seasons: 2007, 2010 and 2013. In 2012, the team ended their season at 1-13. They were determined to end the following season better, building on the talents of its roster. To be fair, they would give all the teams in 2012 a good fight, losing by slim margins. Of course, they would follow that 1-13 record with a winless season.
But little did they know that in that particular season, an ember would start in the person of one Paul Desiderio.
The Fighting Maroons’ woeful campaign in each UAAP season caught the attention of some alumni. These well-meaning Iskos and Iskas found out about the plight of the players, sometimes playing games with empty stomachs. The call for support reached far and wide, attracting the attention of some powerful and influential alumni.
The call then was ‘just one win.’ And when the Fighting Maroons ended their 27-game losing streak, a bonfire party was called. It didn’t matter that that was the only game won by the team that season; there was something different here. There was a support system now.
“Atin to, papasok to!” — Paul Desiderio during the timeout.
— ABS-CBN Sports (@abscbnsports) September 10, 2017
Now iconic, Paul Desiderio’s words became a rallying cry of both the team and its growing number of supporters. That season saw UP winning 6 of their 8 games in the regular season. They would fall short, however, as they would be eliminated in the semifinals.
A product of UP Integrated School, the Gomez de Lianos were standouts even from their high school playing days. All eyes were on them as they both showcased their talents in front of a growing crowd of supporters. In season 79, Juan Gomez de Liano was named rookie of the year.
The Future is Bright
Bright Akhuetie is a talented center from Nigeria who played for the NCAA’s University of Perpetual Help Atlas. After a fierce recruiting battle, UP was able to sign Akhuetie as a key piece to the unit.
The Sixth Man
As fans started showing up to support the Fighting Maroons, the players became even more motivated. We’re not privy to all the dramas, but we’re pretty sure there were a lot. The way the passion translates into the basketball court with each game and victories, there has to be a bit of that. But it didn’t matter. For as long as there are people to support the team, there are reasons to push themselves harder.
There are lessons here. But we’d like to relish this moment first. Sweet.
What do you think of UP’s chances against Ateneo? Tell us below!