It’s quite apt that the UAAP is rolling with the theme “It all begins here” for the new season. The 81st season of the league feels like a fresh start, not just for several teams competing, but for the league itself.
UAAP Season 81 is all about new beginnings.
Paul Desiderio starts Season 81 with a target on his back.
His name will be scribbled, underlined, and encircled across all seven opposing locker rooms. His every move will be monitored and tracked like a supertyphoon. When his team is down two points during winning time, expect the defense to focus all efforts on stopping him. He has seen the last of the easy baskets; his road to the pros or to whatever comes next just got even tougher, more interesting, more entertaining.
It’s his fault, anyway.
You know the story: Desiderio, UP’s on-court chief executive officer, said two words to get everyone’s attention during a team huddle with only five seconds left, his team down two points, his season about to start with a pending loss. The two words perfectly summed up the Paul Desiderio vision-mission statement:
Desiderio, UP’s team captain, threw it out there for everyone to hear, to pump up his Fighting Maroon teammates, to manifest greatness. The line was so damn catchy that it could lend its power to any campaign slogan, hashtag, an inspiring tattoo in cursive, title of a biopic, a confident statement shirt, tourism jingle, etcetera. It works on all levels, in any context.
But although these two words were encouraging, they were also vague, and give room for a couple of questions: Okay, so we got this, but how exactly are going to get it, Paul? Are we sure we got this, Paul? But Paul, what if we miss?
The two words that came after the first two words clinched it:
He delivered it with so much conviction and pain, in a Cebuano twang so heavy he could knock you out with it. He didn’t make a flimsy promise that could be broken; he made an ironclad guarantee. Whether Desiderio was a time-traveler who is able to peek into the future or a 5-foot-10 version of Madam Auring, we’ll never know. What we do know is that UP won a game because Paul Desiderio said they were going to.
The shot in itself was nothing special. Desiderio curled around two screens, caught the ball at the top of the key, and elevated for a textbook three-pointer over two defenders, no biggie. What made the moment special was the moment before the actual moment (the mini-speech above) and the moment after the actual moment (the reaction below).
Desiderio swished the three and a sea of maroon, green, white, and blue rippled into a tidal wave of pumped fists and raised arms. People in the stands jumped up and down, uncontrollably, hysterically, because that was the only acceptable way to do it.
One fan pounded his chest like a gorilla. Another fan did the “ice in his veins” gesture, where you point the index finger to the arm to say that someone is cold-blooded. Some just covered their mouths, perhaps to restrain themselves from cursing.
All these happened on UP’s very first game of the season—Desiderio, UP’s official heat check specialist, was just warming up.
A month later, he did the same boss move in a game versus FEU, ballgame tied with six seconds left. Tabla or panalo were the only options, which really meant that the only options were a miss or make from Desiderio. In the huddle, Desiderio didn’t have to say anything, the crowd already knew:
A-Tin-To! A-Tin-To! A-Tin-To!
Desiderio caught the ball on the left wing and took two left-handed dribbles to warn FEU’s Ron Dennison—someone he knew from way back—that he was about to take over the game. Desiderio stepped back and hit a three right in Dennison’s face, in the process stripping the FEU vet of the title “Desiderio stopper.” There’s simply no such thing.
Desiderio’s heroics in the clutch have seeped into the PBA’s developmental league, a venue where college stars and ex-pros are given the floor to flex. It’s a scene where Desiderio shouldn’t have been comfortable with—removed from UP coach Bo Perasol’s care and away from the familiarity of his school. He was thrown into the mix in the middle of the playoffs, a hired gun with a mission: championship or nothing.
So in Game 3 of a five-game series between his Go For Gold and Che’lu Bar & Grill, Desiderio did his thing. Tied at 96, he drove to the lane like he’s been there before, and calmly sank a game-winning layup with three seconds left to give his team a 2-1 lead in the series. His team won the title two games later.
Add 2018 PBA D-League Foundation Cup champion to the growing list of Desiderio’s achievements, which includes a career-high 30 points against a Ben Mbala-led La Salle in 2016; a Chooks-to-Go UAAP Press Corps Player of the Week award (he was only the second UP player to get the honor in a decade); and a Mythical Team selection in Season 79 (again only the second UP player to get the honor in a decade).
All these happened during the crazy college years—Desiderio, UP’s summa cum laude in scoring, is just warming up.
Season 81 marks Desiderio’s fifth and final year of playing for UP, a team that was so used to not winning that they once celebrated ONE WIN the same way the Ateneo Blue Eagles celebrated a championship. Those days are done (UP juuuuust missed out in the Final Four last season with a 6-8 record, good for fifth place). With still a year left of waiting time before Kobe Paras and Ricci Rivero alternate highlights, the winning culture in UP is being established.
Season 81 marks this new beginning for UP.
A lot of eyes will be on the powerhouse cast—ex-Perpetual Help Atlas Bright Akhuetie, prized rookie Will Gozum, and Season 80 Rookie of the Year Juan Gomez de Liano—but all eyes will be on the man who brings it all together. UP will go where Desiderio goes. When he moves on from Diliman, the show will continue with new plot twists, different antagonists, but the same hero.
These past few years of being entertained by Desiderio was just a teaser. Now that he has our attention, it’s time we enjoy The Paul Desiderio Show.
Sa kanya ‘to.
UAAP Season 81 Previews:
The Demolition Brothers Tag Team in NU
Franz Pumaren’s Flight Back to the Top
The Alvin Pasaol Cult Following
Arvin Tolentino’s Magical MVP Run