When Paul Desiderio was subbed out for the final time for the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, he was showered with deafening chants.
“Atin ‘to!” “Desiderio! Desiderio!”
But the cheers did not just come from the UP faithful; even the Ateneo community paid their respects. It was a perfect tribute to the Isko who has so changed the culture of the Fighting Maroons.
Once a squad that was dubbed the lovable losers of the UAAP, Desiderio, a 5-foot-10 guard, was instrumental in the turnaround of the Fighting Maroons. If Jett Manuel was the firestarter, Deiderio was the engine.
“Pinakamalaking natutunan ko sa UP is yung pasensya.
“Ikaw, player ka from Cebu, zero (wins), fourteen (losses) ang start mo – ine-expect mo lilipat talaga ako ng school. Pero nagpasensya lang ako. Tinitiis ko, one win, [para] kahit na parang mukha na kaming loko, pag-graduate ko naman Finals. Special!” expressed Desiderio, who had to leave his hometown of Liloan, Cebu at the young age of 15 years old.
From the cellar-dwellars of the league, the Fighting Maroons’ trajectory changed with Desiderio and Bo Perasol. In Perasol’s first year, UP made the leap to sixth place. A year later, they were fifth.
This season saw the Fighting Maroons grow up, with Desiderio leading the charge. Despite all the obstacles they faced, UP ended a 32-year Finals drought to make it to the podium for the first time since their last championship.
“Never give up.
“Think positive lang parati, na kahit na yung nawawala na kami. Yun ang problema namin dati sa UP, nilalamangan na kami, nawawalan na kami ng gana at tuloy-tuloy na yun,” the 21-year-old reflected.
“Happy naman ako na nabago yun. Laging sinasabi ng teammates ko, ‘Atin ‘to,’ kahit hindi na ako yung nagsasabi. Sobrang saya ko na,” he shared, as Atin ‘To had become the battle cry of every Isko and Iska out there.
So what legacy did Desiderio leave? Well, it would be hard to describe it in words.
Only pictures can really show it.
“Sobrang natutuwa ako kasi nagsama-sama sila ngayon. Dati ilan lang ang nanonood. First year ko, mabibilang mo lang, twenty. Pero ngayon, sobrang dami na. Sobrang tuwa ko.”
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