Confessions of a UP Fan

Forgive me for I have sinned.

There are two things about me that I wanna tell you. Let this be my confession of my wrongdoing, in the hopes of correcting it,

First, I’m a fan of the UP Fighting Maroons.

I entered UP as a freshman in 2009, and followed its basketball team ever since. Yep, I was watching through thin, thinner and thinnest. All the under-.500 seasons, the 0-14s, the long losing streaks. I was there when all the other UAAP schools made punching bags out of our team. I was the laughing stock of my high school friends who went to schools with better basketball programs.

I was there. I’m still here. Call it school pride, martyrdom, anything you want. My affection towards the university goes beyond my ID and my diploma. UP’s name is permanently etched on my utak and puso. It will be etched there for life.

Second, I didn’t like Coach Bo Perasol at all.

I really didn’t. Ask my friends. They’d readily tell you that I had no trust in him whatsoever. All those talks about him bringing us to the Final Four? I thought those were all false hopes and wishful thinking. Straight trash.

I didn’t hate him. I just hated the fact that he was revered as UP basketball program’s messiah. The one who would save our entire community from this eternal damnation called losing. I mean, come on, why would we expect salvation from a coach who failed to give Ateneo a title, a team which was flying high like Icarus before he crashed the whole program down? He couldn’t excel on a team with Kiefer Ravena, Von Pessumal, Chris Newsome and Arvin Tolentino in its lineup. So, there was no logical reason to believe that could create a contender out of UP.

I didn’t trust him even if UP’s records in Seasons 79 and 80 were stark improvements from the previous years. I believed that it was because the Fighting Maroons gained a huge influx of talent—the best they had in years. Juan Gomez de Liaño was arguably the best local recruit the university had in years. His brother Javi emerged as a perfect do-it-all forward for the team. Jun Manzo was the tough, do-it-all point guard UP needed. The level of talent just expanded exponentially for UP. That wasn’t Coach Bo.

If anything, I thought that Coach Bo was holding this team back. His Paul Desiderio-centric offense was a disaster. It seemed like he found his UP version of Kiefer, someone whom he could hitch his offense to, ride or die. He ignored all the other players that he had on his roster. It was Ateneo all over again.

In my mind, I already judged Coach Bo as a total mess. I wanted to see someone else lead the team to the path of winning. Chris Gavina made waves by making a contender out of a ragtag team in the big league. Ronnie Magsanoc could inspire the young guns with his homegrown experience from the championship in ‘86. Ryan Gregorio might want to bring his expertise back to his alma mater.

There’s a long list of coaches who could take over the program and bring a winning culture to UP—all except him.

Yet, we were stuck with Coach Bo for at least another season. Despite the addition of Bright Akhuetie, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s not he one to end UP’s Final Four drought. He already failed so many times not just here but on the other side of Katipunan. There’s no way he could change who he was and suddenly become a winner for UP.

Well, Coach Bo proved me wrong.

He finally veered away from his one-man, isolation-heavy offense. With Bright, Juan, Javi, Paul and Jun, the Fighting Maroons created a fluid, balanced offensive approach that relied on pushing and moving the ball. They led the league in pace and assists per game throughout the elimination round.

That was a major adjustment he made to this year’s Fighting Maroons, a welcome change that made them the most efficient scoring team in Season 81. They shot league-best 45% from the field, which was unusually high for a team under Coach Bo’s supervision.

Maybe it’s never too late to change for the better. And for Coach Bo, his metamorphosis was completed in the game against La Salle. Assigning Jarell Lim to Aljun Melecio, bringing the GDL Brothers off the bench, mixing and matching his Xs and Os—Coach Bo made all the right moves throughout the game.

What made it even more impressive was despite not being known for defense, UP forced La Salle to turn the ball over 19 times, which was higher than their season average. They also went toe-to-toe when it came to rebounding against the La Salle bigs, one of the best rebounding units in the league.

It didn’t matter if the Fighting Maroons led by eight, 12, or 20. Coach Bo made sure that his team kept its foot on the pedal, knowing fully that this was their golden opportunity to break the curse. It was a perfectly executed annihilation from start to end. As the final buzzer sounded, UP’s ticket back to the Final Four after 21 years was finally booked.

With the win, UP completed its ascent to the elite level of the UAAP.

It can be argued that the success was due to the best collection of basketball talent the Fighting Maroons assembled in years. However, it should not be overlooked that it was Coach Bo recruited that talent. He formed the team that took the court and made history. More importantly, he brought everything together. He changed his own system to fit the players on the roster. Coach Bo kept his team motivated, even through a rough patch in the early part of the season and kept the team rolling all the way to the Final Four.

He’s the one who created this winning environment, the one who changed the course of UP’s basketball program. Because of him, UP is now enjoying all the successes that eluded them for so long.

Just like Coach Bo, It’s not too late for me to change as well.

I am sorry for not believing in Coach Bo. I’m just so glad that I was totally wrong about him. He may have been considered a zero in the past, but he’s a totally different man now. He’s the hometown hero for a university that searched for a savior for decades.

If anything, I’m now thankful for him. Thank you Coach Bo, for finally making a winner out of UP. My utak and puso will be forever grateful to him.