Since Paul Desiderio entered the league back in 2013, University of the Philippines has come a long way.
That was a forgettable year for the then-rookie as the Fighting Maroons failed to register a single win in their UAAP Season 76 campaign. Fast forward to today, the team is in a dogfight for the last seat at the Final Four table.
Time flies fast.
“Sobrang layo na ng journey ko lalo na ngayon na last year ko, closer na kami sa Final Four. Sobrang blessed ko na [umabot] kami dito. Kung anuman yung chance namin if ever, grab [na] namin,” the fifth-year guard said.
Desiderio didn’t waste time throwing his weight around on Saturday as he played what was arguably his best all-around game all year long, tallying 19 points (on 8-for-16 shooting and three treys), seven rebounds, four assists and a steal in 32 minutes in to help UP improve its chances.
He admitted that the ‘gigil’ factor already kicked in even before the opening tip.
“Syempre nung warmup palang nakikita ko na, first time ko nakita na wow punong puno yung UP crowd, dun ako kumukuha ng motivation sa kanila. Andito pa yung family, ko pumunta pa sila, every weekend andito sila. Tapos makikita mo yung crowd,” he said.
“Sa’kin napaka-importante [ng panalo] kasi last year ko na nga. Gusto ko pag-end namin, makapasok kami sa Final Four. Napaka-importante nun.”
But while they’re on the cusp of ending the 21-year Final Four drought, the spitfire gunner didn’t forget to credit the man who made this all possible in the first place: coach Bo Perasol.
Under the 45-year-old mentor’s leadership, UP’s record has improved year-by-year. In Season 79 — his first year with the team — they finished with a modest 5-9 record, then narrowly missed a top-four ending last year with a 6-8 win-loss card.
This year, they’re guaranteed to tie their best season record since 2004.
“Sobrang blessed kami na dumating si coach Bo kasi binago niya talaga yung program ng basketball sa UP. Sobrang blessed kami na dumating siya kasi lahat ng kailangan ng team, hinahanapan niya ng paraan,” he remarked.
“Masaya kasi yung winning culture nandun na. Sana magtuloy-tuloy na ito.”
That matchup against La Salle on Wednesday will no doubt be their biggest of the season. Desiderio, of course, vows that the team will leave it all on the floor.
“Siyempre kung ano man ang chance namin against La Salle, iga-grab namin. Gagawin namin yung best namin makuha yung win,” he said.