Nobody knows losing quite like the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons.
I say that with no ridicule, hate, or remorse, only pure love and devotion as a hardcore long-suffering UP fan.
Not that I had a choice. I entered UP in 2000, just three years after its last Final Four entry. With solid rookies Abby Santos and Bruce Quebral, who were my floormates in our freshman dorm, joining hotshot Mike Bravo, a dunking Brazilian import in Robson Bornancin, and a steady UP core, I quickly drowned in the hope that this was our year.
Well, it hasn’t been UP’s year since 1986, our first and only UAAP championship, or in the last 20 years for that matter. In that span, La Salle, Ateneo, UST and FEU have won multiple championships, NU ended its title drought, while UE and Adamson had several Final Four stints.
What the UP men’s basketball team has been known for is the infamous record of having not one, not two, but three 0-14 seasons in the last decade. Without a doubt, we know losing.
I used to blame Bornancin and his jams in that dark UP gym during their practices for getting me into all of this suffering. Yet even as the rosters changed and in all the years of losing and winless seasons, I remained a hopeful fan in a hopeless team. I’ve shed tears. I’ve shaved my head. I didn’t join that bonfire, fortunately, when we won one game after two years of losing.
But with that celebration, pathetic as it was to some, I found out I was not the only lovefool following the Maroons all these years. Lose, we hurt for a while, then laugh it off. Win, we light a fire. Win more, we might just burn the campus.
Kidding aside, such is our devotion, which may soon be rewarded, after all the painful seasons spiced up by ridicule. We’ll always have cheerdancing, hecklers said. Focus na lang sa studies, they added.
But Season 80 might just be the turning point, when all the jokes begin to lose their punchlines.
Yes, it’s that stupid hope again filling up UP fans in a season where some say could end up the same for the Maroons—outsiders looking in at the Final Four by November.
Yet it’s not entirely baseless to be optimistic about the UP squad in UAAP Season 80, despite the odds.
La Salle will be there, obviously. Ateneo has a sneaky good class of rookies to an almost intact core that got to the finals. Same with Adamson, last year’s surprise Final Four team. And FEU—never count them out.
But the Maroons have increased their win totals every season in the last three years, a first for UP since the 1990s. We have gone nowhere but up, and the signs are pointing higher.
Paul Desiderio, the first Maroon to join the Mythical Five in a decade, has improved his outside touch in the offseason as shown by his PBA D-League stint. Add three-point shooting to his lethal slashing game and the Cebuano is poised for a breakout this year and gives UP a legitimate go-to guy in crunchtime—one of the missing pieces in past years.
The Maroons also addressed a big weakness with an interior presence in Ibrahim Ouattara allowed to play. Ouattara should provide UP with solid rebounding and physical presence in the paint sorely lacking in previous seasons (sorry, Andrew Harris, just try to go through a game without a rebound slipping from your grasp before you earn this writer’s trust).
This UP squad, though, is not just a two-man team. Props to coach Bo Perasol for bringing in some recruits that set up the Maroons well in the present and near future.
The backcourt has always been one of UP’s strengths, more so this season with steady playmakers like Kyles Lao and Diego Dario now bolstered by new recruits Jun Manzo and ROY candidate Juan Gomez de Liano.
On the wings, there’s the solid combination of athletic defenders with some decent perimeter range in Noah Webb and Juan’s older brother Javi. Looking at the roster, from top to bottom, this is a lineup ready to match up with anybody in the UAAP.
How UP translates its impressive stints in the preseason tournaments like in Filoil, Davao, Bulacan, and even that Las Vegas training to their Season 80 performance remains to be seen. There are far more talented and experienced rosters in the league.
But the long-tortured UP fanbase is due for something worth celebrating, much like the Boston Red Sox got rewarded after 86 years or the 108-year wait for the Chicago Cubs for a World Series title. No, a UAAP championship may not be realistic for the Maroons this season, but ending that 21-year Final Four drought will do.
This could be that year. Make it, this is our year.
If not, there’s always next year, where the young core will only get better, stronger and, forgive the pun, but you know what’s coming—Bright-er.