By Karlo Lovenia
“Success is when reality catches up to our imagination.” – Simon Sinek
The Season 81 UP Fighting Maroons changed everything for the Diliman program. From dreaming of just winning one game, they made the leap to aiming for the richest of prizes: a UAAP championship.
They were serious about attaining this dream. That’s why the next season, they paraded one of the most talented UAAP rosters in league history. On paper, it spoke for itself. MVP Bright Akhuetie. Generational talent Kobe Paras. Graceful athlete Ricci Rivero. Offensive wizard Juan Gomez de Liano. Elite role player Javi Gomez de Liano. It was a group that looked complete.
Because they only looked complete, the UP faithful kept on waiting anxiously for the true potential of the Season 82 Fighting Maroons. They were branded as cardiac, but the community wanted them to be elite. They wanted them to be real; legitimate title contenders that matched the talent in their roster.
They waited. And waited. Until Renzo Subido ended the waiting for the UP fan by pulling up for a dagger from all the way in Espana.
The title contender never arrived. Reality never caught up to imagination.
Despite the heartbreak of 82, the UP program didn’t stop at trying to build the best roster imaginable. Then head coach and now program director Bo Perasol continued to recruit, locking up the commitments of NU Bulldogs Carl Tamayo, Gerry Abadiano, and Terrence Fortea, while also securing the services of Zavier Lucero, CJ Cansino, Malick Diouf, and JD Cagulangan. They also signed legendary High School coach Goldwin Monteverde to take over head coaching duties.
The COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t going to stop UP from doing the work needed to build a championship roster. But building a championship roster was one thing. Actually getting that roster to win a championship was another.
Enter Season 84.
The pace of the season has been fast, but that hasn’t stopped UP from establishing an identity. What was their identity?
Cardiac perhaps? They played a lot of close games, but it felt like a stretch to describe them as cardiac. They weren’t getting in close games because they were careless. Other teams were just as good as them, a testament to the talent pool of the UAAP more than anything. As a matter of fact, they were executing some of their best basketball during the clutch this season.
Talented? On paper, yes, but even that feels like downplaying their overall package as a group. Their star pieces are playing up to par, but their coaching staff deserves as much credit for getting them to be this prepared and composed for all their games.
A damn good basketball team? Simple. Too simple. But sometimes, simple is the best way to describe something. That perfectly describes the UP Fighting Maroons. They were talented. They executed well. It all meshed together well.
They were a damn good basketball team. But good wouldn’t be enough to win a championship. Good wouldn’t satisfy the dreams they wanted to turn into reality. To turn that dream into a reality, they needed to get past the best team in college basketball, the Ateneo Blue Eagles.
Their duel with the Blue Eagles yesterday, May 1, 2022, was a classic that went down the wire. They started the game with an 18-point lead, but in classic Blue Eagle fashion, Ateneo came back and turned it into a back-and-forth affair.
It seemed inevitable that Ateneo would catch up and hit the final nail in the coffin against UP. But the Fighting Maroons, in true Iskolar fashion, resisted their dominance and kept fighting back.
Their execution even looked better than the Blue Eagles at times. As a matter of fact, they ended the game +8 in terms of assists compared to Ateneo.
One fearless James Spencer three and two ice-cold Ricci Rivero free throws later, they iced the game and created a moment.
Walang takot kahit kanino.
The UP Fighting Maroons had done it. Not only did they end the streak of the Ateneo Blue Eagles, but they proved that they could truly hang with the big boys of college basketball.
They held on and kept believing in themselves. The spirit of the Fighting Maroons was strong, arguably the strongest it’s been in years now.
The excitement’s always burned. The hype’s never died. The difference is, unlike past years, the hype feels warranted. This time, it feels more real.
The UP Fighting Maroons are legitimate title contenders. They’re a problem. A legitimate problem. Winning against the defending champions solidified this even more.
Job’s not finished. Success hasn’t arrived yet. They’ll need to win three more games if they want their reality to finally catch up to their imagination. This is their best shot at getting their reality to catch up to their dreams of winning a UAAP championship.
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