Jack Santiago and this batch of Red Warriors are gradually regaining the faith from the University of the East community in this UAAP Season 85 Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Turning a leaf from its disastrous Season 84, the Recto school have already won three games this season. It almost managed to upset defending champions University of the Philippines, only to eventually fold 77-84 in the end.
“Deep inside, I’m happy with my boys. Yung effort nila nandun. But of course, hindi kase kailangan na pakita mo sa kanila na na-sa-satisfy ka na kaagad,” said Santiago.
“I want my boys na mag-level up sila… To be in the Final Four, you need to beat yung mga ganitong klaseng team.”
Coming into this game, UE managed to seal wins over Far Eastern University, De La Salle University, and University of Santo Tomas.
Considering where they were months ago, it is an impressive feat to beat two of last season’s Final Four teams.
While pulling off upsets feels good, in the long term, the goal is to be one of the big boys in the UAAP.
“Nanalo kami dun sa big games namin before, pero ito yung isang acid test for us. At least ang maganda lang dito, makita mo yung effort and yung probability na kaya namin. Maybe in the second round, baka maka-chamba kami,” said the long-time La Salle assistant.
The efforts of Santiago and his boys aren’t going unnoticed. The UE crowd cheered them on, especially when momentum was on the Red Warriors’ side against the Fighting Maroons.
In fact, the likes of Paul Lee, Rey Suerte, and Roi Sumang – standout players who have donned the UE jersey in the UAAP – watched directly behind the bench to motivate their successors to pull off the win.
“Of course, nakakataba ng puso, especially during our practice, there are alumni na tumutulong sa team bringing some food sa mga bata. Nakakatuwa,” said the Mapua University alumnus.
“Even ako, nakikita ko when I go to the athletics office. Right now may mga estudyante na o alumni asking for tickets already,” the second-year head coach continued.
“Maganda at sabi ko nga kakagulat kanina when we had a run. Meron pala kaming crowd na sumusuporta na sa amin. I want to thank them also. It’s a big help for the team na makita yung suporta ng community.”
Indeed, the sudden rise of the Red Warriors this Season 85 has been one of the tournament’s inspiring stories.
Finally, after a few years, the UE community has a team it can be proud of – one that gives everything until the final buzzer.