"Fighting for a cause, fighting for country and people, fighting to win at all costs."
It is fitting that as the nation marks Bonifacio Day today, Nov. 30, people continue to talk about the UP Fighting Maroons. Yes, the UP Men’s Basketball Team, which snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in that do-or-die game against the vaunted Adamson University squad with the fighting heart of a champion.
Opo. It is UP, respected institution of learning, whose basketball team’s last trip to the UAAP finals was 32 years ago with stars like Benjie Paras, Ronnie Magsanoc and Eric Altamirano, all of whom have since starred in and finally retired from professional basketball. That’s how long the drought has been for UP which made last Wednesday’s sweep of Adamson University even sweeter.
“The burden is not winning the game. It’s all about making an impact on a community that is hungry for winning, “ teary-eyed UP Coach Bo Perasol was overheard as saying at the sound of the final buzzer.
Indeed, if the attendance in this semifinal match was any indication, there was no denying the hunger that the UP community had. Of the 15,000 or so who gone to the Mall of Asia arena for the first game, fully three-fourths were from UP. It was the same ration in last Wednesday’s match at the Araneta Coliseum which registered a record 21,000 attendees. The Fighting Maroons did not disappoint.
Echoing skipper Paul Desiderio’s fighting mantra “Atin ‘To” (This One’s For Us), the team showed to all and sundry what they, at bottom, are made of—fighters, soldiering on, to the end. And not just the men in maroons but the blue-shirted Falcons as well. Not to mention the 20,000-plus crowd who braved traffic and the heat to shout their hearts out for their teams.
Fighting for a cause, fighting for country and people, fighting to win at all costs. This is what makes people disciplined, united and courageous against all odds. This is what a country and a people need to survive, move on and level up to its fullest potentials. This is what we as a people need to do every waking hour if we are to survive as a strong, progressive and united nation. In much the same way this is what organizations, clubs and teams ought to have for results.
For all intents and purposes, if the pundits are to be believed, Adamson U was destined for the finals. They had one of the best, if not the best, line up among the UAAP teams. Perhaps, even better than defending champion Ateneo. With a barrel chested, sweet shooting center in Papi Sarr, formidable forwards in Sean Manganti and Jerick Alhamisi, and dependable guards in Lastimosa, Camacho and Magbuhos, it was dream team of sorts. Even the team’s second squad is considered more experienced than say, University of the East or National University. And, best of all, they had a highly respected championship coach in Franz Pumaren. In fact, when the team was on its way to sweeping the first round the betting was this was going to be the team to beat already.
But, as fate would have it, they had a fighting team to bawl over if they were to reach the finals. And what a team. Given up for good at the end of the first round, the Fighting Maroons had to claw their way back into contention as they got into the middle of the second round. After a so-so start in this final round they managed to win their last three games punctuated by a rout of a tumbling De LaSalle squad to gain the third spot after Adamson. Thanks to what should now be dubbed the “fightingest” team in the 81st UAAP season anchored by Desiderio, versatile guards Juan Gomez de Liano, Jun Manzo and Diego Dario, forwards Ahby Gomez de Liano, Prado and Jaboneta and league MVP “Big Man” Bright Akhuete.
And so, on to the finals for the UP team in what is now being billed as the “Battle of Katipunan”—again a battle which can only echo and essay the test of the courage, discipline and fighting will of our youth—in this patch of land which used to be wilderness, of sorts, and the battle ground for the many battles, a good number of which were launched by the Katipunan more than a hundred years ago with the more recent being the Diliman Commune and sits ins, Down from the Hill pickets during the First Quarter Storm, all of which now immortalized in our history. It will not be easy for UP as it faces a defending champion that is equally gritty, talented and full of heart.
But as Desiderio reiterated, “Atin ‘To”—whatever chance we have in the finals, we’re going to grab it. In the words of Perasol “..the road isn’t easy, you have to find the courage, the skills, talents and persistence to be in a place like this that we’re enjoying right now. It wasn’t an easy journey, but it’s all worth it..” Indeed, this UP team deserves their place in the Finals. This is their moment.