Kobe Paras should not be UP’s end game

There were two truths that I had to live by when I entered UP back in 2009.

First, the university was one of the best, if not the best, in the country. It still is—and not just in Diliman. Each campus has its fair share of expertise, successes and contributions to the country. As such, I knew I had to study in the best way that I can.

Second, UP’s basketball team was bad. As in really, really bad. How great the university was as an academic institution was the exact opposite of its basketball program. It was so bad that whenever my friend from another UAAP school teased me with ‘basketball na lang!’, the only response that I could muster was either a head scratch or a deliberate attempt to change the topic.

How could I defend my team? The losing culture of UP’s basketball team was well-known even before I entered the university. The Final Four drought, the 0-14 records, the long streak of losing seasons—it’s a frustrating situation to be in for an avid basketball fan like me. It’s like being on a constant state of helplessness. Eventually, I learned to just accept the hardships of being a basketball fan in UP.

UP has been blessed with a big ray of hope. Just yesterday, the Fighting Maroons announced the addition of basketball sensation Kobe Paras to its roster.

I was ecstatic upon reading the news. UP had just added another talent in arguably its best roster in recent years. Prior to committing to the Fighting Maroons, Kobe experienced games in US high school basketball as well as the US NCAA with the Creighton Bluejays. Getting him on board was a huge leap for UP basketball, a program which had Jireh Ibañes and Jay-R Reyes as its most successful PBA players in recent memory.

Kobe is more than just a big-name recruit. He symbolizes UP’s long-term commitment to reverse the course of its basketball program. For so long, the Fighting Maroons have settled for relatively unknown players to fill its lineup, which resulted in the prolonged mediocrity for UP.

Those days are gone now. The Fighting Maroons have immensely benefited from a huge influx of talent, with the likes of Paul Desiderio, Diego Dario, Javi and Juan Gomez de Liaño, Jun Manzo, Will Gozum and Bright Akhuetie in the team.

This not just a rebuild—it’s a revolution, an uprising. And with the inclusion of Kobe and former La Salle star Ricci Rivero, the prospect of being in the Final Four, or even contending for the title in the near future, might be more of a possibility rather than a far-fetched dream.

Stockpiling talent is not the end game for UP—winning is. Acquiring the right personnel is nothing more than just a step towards achieving long-term success. Building a winning culture is still a must for the Fighting Maroons.

UP should not look so far ahead into Season 82 just yet. They must compete in Season 81 to create the mindset that they can win now. Key players don’t just come and turn around the whole team’s fate. It’s an effort which should be done by the whole organization, from the coaching staff down to the very last player on the practice player.

The change that UP’s aiming for isn’t something that happens overnight. The team needs to exert constant effort to shed its previous image of being perennial bottom-dwellers. The records have improved, but the team has not accomplished anything significant yet. The long drought for a Final Four appearance is still there. The team still hasn’t had a winning season for about two decades.

But on the bright side, the Fighting Maroons are getting there. Now, the team has a future to look forward to. The next step is to continue pushing forward. The team should not be contented with getting better, but instead aim for the best, no matter how long it will take for them to reach it.

As a UP fan, I know that the wait has already been too damn long. But I’ve managed to wait for nine years before I saw them come close to a winning season. I won’t mind waiting a few more years for the team to establish itself as a contender in the UAAP.