What started as an unscripted, impassioned rallying cry turned into a passion-filled season that couldn’t have been scripted any better
MANILA, Philippines – It started with one man. It started with two words. It started a fan revolution.
When Paul Desiderio made a final bow to the thousands of UP fans at the Araneta Coliseum, he knew the job was done.
No, he did not win a title for the Fighting Maroons nor did he even slow down the masterful charge of the eventual champion Ateneo Blue Eagles.
No, what he did was seal a winning legacy – a concept completely alien to the team's understanding barely 3 to 4 years ago.
There are many facets to unravel in UP’s unprecedented rise in UAAP men’s basketball, but Desiderio summed it up with two words: “Atin ‘to.” (This is ours.)
As he made his final exit from the league after an 81-99 beating at the hands of their Katipunan neighbors, the King Maroon wanted everyone to remember what those words would always mean.
“Never give up. Kumbaga think positive lang parati kahit na nawawala,” he said after the game as he faced the media with all smiles. (Just always think positive even when you get lost.)
“Yun talaga yung problema namin sa UP. Nilalamangan na kami, nawawalan na kami ng gana kaya tuluy-tuloy na yun. Happy naman ako dahil nabago yun,” he continued. “Laging sinasabi ng teammates ko “Atin ‘to” kahit di na ako nagsasabi kaya sobrang happy ko.”
(That had always been our problem in UP. We would lose our desire once our opponents pile on the lead. I’m happy that it already changed. My teammates would always say “Atin ‘to” even if I don’t say it anymore, which is why I’m so happy.)
Even the man himself couldn’t have possibly known how far those words would take him and his team. What started out as an unscripted, impassioned rallying cry turned out to be a mirror of what was yet to come: a passion-filled season that couldn’t have been scripted any better.
While Desiderio would no longer be with the team that kept him for 6 years, he hopes that the culture he has helped reform would further grow in the years to come.
“Sobrang happy ako dahil nakaabot kami ng championship [round],” he said. “Sayang lang kasi di namin nakuha yung championship pero hopefully next year, kasi yun naman talaga eh. Ine-expect ng tao na next year kasi dapat nilang malagpasan yung [ginawa] namin. Para sa akin, yung next year yung babawi sa amin.”
(I’m so happy that we got to the championship round. It just feels sad that we didn’t get the championship, but hopefully it happens next year, because that was really the plan. People now will expect the team to surpass what we have done. For me, the guys next year will get the crown for us.)
Now turning his focus to the pro leagues, Desiderio gives his faith to the team’s current stars led by Bright Akhuetie and Juan Gomez de Liaño and incoming standouts Ricci Rivero and Kobe Paras.
“Napakalaking pressure para sa kanila, pero kaya naman nila Kobe, Ricci, andun papalit sa amin,” said Desiderio. “Kaya nila mag-champion next year.”
(There would be huge pressure for them, but Kobe, Ricci and the rest of the new players can handle it. They can be champions next year.)
Like the famous UP bonfire, Paul Desiderio lit up a community just waiting to shine bright once again.