By Dennis Gorecho
THE UAAP games galvanized an extraordinary sense of solidarity for the denizens of the University of the Philippines, often described as the microcosm of a highly diverse nation.
An academic community all too easily fractured by politics and personal interest, the cheer “UP FIGHT!” reverberated during the UAAP Season 82 as the UP Fighting Maroons Men’s basketball team fought UP style – “may giting at tapang.”
The Fighting Maroons have been branded as “Cramming Maroons” by fans due to their nail-biting, cardiac victories the entire season, three out of the nine wins have been one-point advantages. Cramming is life for the UP community — even basketball games are no exception in that habit.
UP’s bid for the championship trophy, unfortunately, ended when its lost to UST during the Final Four stepladder game Nov. 13 at the Mall of Asia Arena with a score of 68-65.
However, the Maroons had their best record yet with a nine-four (9-4) win-loss this season, with the support of groups such as Nowhere To Go But UP.
One should not take for granted the improving win-loss scoreboard under Coach Bo Perasol: 5-9 in Season 79, 6-8 in Season 80, and 8- 6 in season 81 wherein the UP Fighting Maroons entered the Finals but sadly lost to defending champion Ateneo.
Out of the 1,115 points earned by the team this season, 236 points were from Kobe Paras, 235 points from Bright Akuete, 151 points from Javi Gomez de Liano, 134 points from Ricci Rivero and 132 points Jun Manzo.
In front of thousands of UP fanatics, the Six J’s — seniors Jun Manzo, Janjan Jaboneta, Jerson Prado, Jose Piero Longa, Jaydee Tungcab, and Jaybie Mantilla — sang UP Naming Mahal for the last time last November 13.
“They should continue to have that winning mindset. Even though we weren’t able to get a finals spot, I hope they continue pushing for the Final Four. I’m thanking UP that they accepted my transfer. We did everything we could. I don’t regret anything,” Manzo said in an interview. With 132 points, 56 rebounds, and 64 assists, his number of assists is the highest among the team members.
Bright Akhuetie, the team’s 6-foot-8 center, viewed this season with a positive note: “Winners don’t stop when they lose, they learn and get better.”
At the start of the season, Kobe was confronted with very high expectations, whether he liked it or not, being the son of Philippine basketball legend Benjie Paras. Kobe did not let down the UP community with his performance this season with 236 points, 72 rebounds, and 25 assists.
“I’ve learned to love myself and be more appreciative of what I have instead of wanting more things,” Kobe said in an interview after UP’s loss over UST. “I think that’s a lesson for a lot of people in this world that you have to be grateful for what you have. You can’t be fishing for stuff you don’t have. You’ll never be complete.”
A campus anecdote was that the varsity team was once known as the UP Parrots but was replaced with a new moniker that revived the old (circa the 1920s) name Maroons along with the adjective “fighting” to describe the sportsmanship attitude that the UP varsity teams must possess during the games.
In 1986 when the Edsa Revolution happened, UP won over UE Red Warriors under the guidance of legendary coach Joe Lipa.
A year later, I entered UP Diliman as a freshman in 1987 but I still felt the championship euphoria as I often see Benjie Paras around the campus.
As the chief photographer of Philippine Collegian from 1989 to 1991, I remember my coverages of the games with very few, if none, UP denizens inside the venue.
Almost 30 years later, securing tickets became a challenging feat in every game due to the increasing number of enthusiastic fans eager to shout “UP Fight” as the maroons battle it out to earn the spot for the final games.
Each game became mini-reunions of titos and titas with endless photo-ops and reminiscing of college days memories over coffee, merienda or dinner.
With UP’s loss to UST, several criticisms lingered on how coach Bo handled the team.
One of the posts I have seen says: “Hope people stop bashing the coach who stood by and helped UPMBT get to where it is right now. He’s no longer yours but ours and we can only look with gratitude for what he’s done for the team. As far as I know, there are things more important than winning – loyalty, gratitude, and brotherhood are among them.”.
UP lost but we will continue to shout UP Fight!
Lawyer Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.)