During the dying seconds of the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons’ third seed-clinching win over the De La Salle Green Archers on Wednesday evening, Paul Desiderio asked to be subbed out. And as he did, the first person he looked for was third-year UP head coach Bo Perasol.
And the UP skipper dropped to his mentor’s shoulders, giving him a hug.
“Siyempre si Coach Bo, parang tatay ko yan.
“May times na nag-aaway kami – hindi naman away pero hindi nagkakaintindihan – pero may times din na kalagitnaan ng season na lagi kami nag-uusap kung ano dapat gagawin. So yun, naging successful yung plan namin,” shared Desiderio.
It was a moment six years in the making for Desiderio.
Desiderio, a hotshot recruit from University of Visayas, has experienced the highs and the lows of the Fighting Maroons program. He was part of the team that suffered 27 straight losses. He was a witness to the bonfire back in Season 77. And he was a key cog in the program’s rebuild back in Season 79.
“Siyempre napakasarap! Nandun ako nung 0-14, tapos ngayon Final Four, may chance pa mag-Finals, may chance pa mag-champion!” the now-21-year-old shared.
“So buhay pa yung UP!”
In Season 80, the pride of Liloan, Cebu finally had his moment. His ‘Atin ‘to, papasok ‘to’ shot put him in the spotlight. Moreover, he was part of the All-UAAP team that season.
Desiderio had his moment, and could have left for the pros after that season. But he chose not to.
There was no promise that UP would make it to the Final Four in his final year of eligibility, nor was there a guarantee that he could at least replicate his production from a year ago. Still, he chose to make the ultimate sacrifice.
“Siyempre nag-sacrifice ako sa last year ko. Ang dami kong sinacrifice. Pinag-isipan ko last year kung babalik pa ba ako o hindi. Pagbalik ko, sinakrifice ko yung personal goals ko,” reflected Desiderio, whose numbers are down from last season.
“Ang dami kong sinakripisyo sa team ko, pero worth it naman.”
The fight is not yet over for UP. Up next are UP’s public enemy number one, Sean Manganti and the University Adamson Soaring Falcons.
Admittedly, Desiderio has been hurt by how Manganti has broken his team’s hearts over the last two years. But he won’t try to carry the team on his back like last year. This time, they will try to beat Adamson as a team.
“Hindi gagawin ko lang yung best ko para makapasok sa Final Four. Hindi naman babawian si Manganti,” he declared.
“Gagawin namin yung best namin para makuha yung panalo!”