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The change that led to the UP Fighting Maroons’ magical UAAP 81 run

Last Wednesday, the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons made silver shine like gold.

It might sound like a cliche, but it’s true. And the Fighting Maroons needed a reality check to get to this point.

“It’s been a crazy ride.

“We’ve exceeded our own expectations as a team. We’re just happy and grateful na makapaglaro sa UAAP Finals,” reflected Gelo Vito.

Back in October 14, the Fighting Maroons suffered a 66-83 rout at the hands of the Ateneo Blue Eagles. The loss dropped the team to a 3-5 record – down to sixth place in the eight-team league.

Something had to change.

As seniors, Vito and Diego Dario – together with JJ Espanola and Jarrell Lim – took the initiative to talk to team captain Paul Desiderio and tell him to find his next gear. As seniors, they believed that they also had the right to be the team’s leaders.

“There’s a point in this season na we want to turn things around.

“We made sure everyone is competing, everyone’s doing their right stuff,” disclosed Dario.

Yes, patience was tested. And it had to start with Desiderio, the face of UP’s Atin ‘To movement.

UAAP-81-ADU-vs.-UP-Akhuetie-1115 The change that led to the UP Fighting Maroons' magical UAAP 81 run Basketball News UAAP UP  - philippine sports news

“Pinakamalaking natutunan ko sa UP is yung pasensya,” shared Desiderio.

At that time, UP’s league-leading assists rate was deceiving. Though they were passing the ball, they were not in sync on the defensive end, giving up 77.6 points per game (second highest in the league). Besides this, the UP trio of Desiderio, Juan Gomez de Liano, and Bright Akhuetie could not find the perfect blend.

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Outside, the team’s backers also demanded results. This time around, it was Bo Perasol who took the initiative to be one with the team, ditching his sleek polos for the staff’s uniform.

UAAP-81-ADU-vs.-UP-Perasol-1106 The change that led to the UP Fighting Maroons' magical UAAP 81 run Basketball News UAAP UP  - philippine sports news UAAP-81-UP-vs.-UST-Bo-Perasol-9570 The change that led to the UP Fighting Maroons' magical UAAP 81 run Basketball News UAAP UP  - philippine sports news

“That’s the least I can do,” shared Perasol.

“The least I can do is to be proud of our sponsors.”

“We really want to thank the support ng alumni,” added Dario, as it was NoWhereToGoButUP chairman Agaton Uvero who empowered the players to lead as well.

“That’s the biggest change.”

With the seniors getting their teammates straight, Desiderio embracing the team concept, and Perasol and his staff joining the unit, magic happened.

UAAP-81-Final-Four-ADU-vs.-UP-Desiderio-6823 The change that led to the UP Fighting Maroons' magical UAAP 81 run Basketball News UAAP UP  - philippine sports news

From an 18.0 assists average, the Fighting Maroons raised their rate to a whopping 19.9 dimes per game. With everyone happy, the scoring went up from 75.1 points per game to 80.3. They also limited their opponents to 77.5 points per contest.

Everyone was glad to spread the wealth as well.

Akhuetie ended the elimination round averaging 18.9 points per game – 2.6 higher than the time they fell to 3-5. Desiderio went from averaging 11.4 points to 13.7, while Gomez de Liano upped his assists from 5.1 to 5.9.

More importantly, the wins just kept coming, as UP ended up taking seven of their last eight games to end their 32-year podium drought.

“We just made sure that we’re getting better everyday,” said Dario, who was pivotal in at least three games during that stretch.

When their season ended last Wednesday, the smiles in front of the Fighting Maroons’ faces were a sight to behold. They were arguably the proudest second-placers the league has ever seen.

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UAAP-81-ADMU-vs.-UP-G2-UP-2nd-place-6042 The change that led to the UP Fighting Maroons' magical UAAP 81 run Basketball News UAAP UP  - philippine sports news

And it’s because the journey to get to this point was both painful and fulfilling.

“Grateful kami lalo na kaming seniors. Malayo ang narating ng team compared nung nag-start kami. Lagi kaming kinakantyawan,” shared Jarrell Lim.

“To be able to reach this far, you can’t have a better story than that.”

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