UAAP: Despite Finals loss, Perasol says full force UP community a thing to treasure

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 6) — Fighting Maroons captain Paul Desiderio, who coined the #AtinTo and #16Strong mantras for the University of the Philippines (UP), simply had one wish before ending his UAAP basketball career.

"Marami tayong pagsubok. Aminin man natin o hindi, lagi tayo dating inaasar ng ibang school tungkol sa basketball," Desiderio wrote on his social media page Wednesday after their Finals loss against the Ateneo Blue Eagles.

 "I used to sit on the bench and watch my season go by winless. Loss after loss."

"Pero nangangarap parin ako noon na sa last game ko sa UP, mapupuno yung venue ng maroon. Ngayong araw, natupad narin pangarap ko. Wala akong hinihingi pang iba sa pagtatapos ng college basketball career ko," added Desiderio, who was among the five seniors who played their last match during their 99-81 defeat.

[Translation: But I still used to dream that for my last game in UP, the venue will be packed with maroon. Today, my dream came true. I couldn't ask for anything more to end my college basketball career.]

It has come full circle for the graduating team captain, who had been around Diliman since the winless seasons. From being part of a squad coined as perennial cellar dwellers, Desiderio — along with Diego Dario, Jarrell Lim, Gelo Vito, and JJ Espanola — can now say they are part of the Fighting Maroons squad that ended a 32-year Finals drought in UAAP basketball.

"My biggest trophy was not the championship, it was seeing this community as one. It's not 16 strong anymore, it's the whole community strong," he penned.

For head coach Bo Perasol, the whole rejuvenation of the UP community is something the current Fighting Maroons have to treasure.

"Etong naranasan ng UP Men's Basketball team netong season na to is something that we really have to treasure. Napakaganda ng reception ng alumni. Lahat sila andyan, minsan kahit yung batch na hindi mo nakikita, nandyan," Perasol said in an interview with CNN Philippines' On The Record.

[Translation: What the UP Men's Basketball team experienced this season is something that we really have to treasure. The reception of the alumni has been great. They are all there, you can even see some batches you haven't seen in a while.]

"It was probably because they saw that they could cheer for a team that has a chance."

Perasol even recounted his own collegiate days, when the crowd was limited to players' families and close friends.

"Noong panahon ko kasi, medyo nag-umpisa na 'yung pagkatalunan ng UP (During my time, we were already starting to lose games)… It (the crowd) wasn't really a factor at all, we weren't contenders at the time."

Perasol, who is a former Fighting Maroon himself, said the team is just blessed to have the opportunity to play in the championships against a veteran, more experienced Ateneo team.

"It was very clear who was the better team. We lost to a better team in the Ateneo. But again, as I told the team, it wasn't in our plan to be in the Finals in the first place. "Ang nasa isip talaga namin ay sumampa kami ng (What we were just aiming was to enter the) Final Four," Perasol noted.

"We were blessed with an opportunity to play in the Finals and we hope that we gave the Ateneo team a worth for their money," he added.