Ricci Rivero would have stayed to witness history about to be achieved by his new alma mater. But then again, national team duty calls for the Lasallian-turned-Isko.
With the UP Fighting Maroons just 25 basketball minutes away from nailing a Final Four spot in UAAP Season 81, Rivero had no choice but to leave the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay and embark on a 15-kilometer journey to Ortigas.
“Umalis ako mga mid-second quarter,” said Rivero, who is currently serving his one-year residency in UP after transferring from De La Salle.
With a scheduled 8 p.m practice with the men’s national team at the Meralco Gym, Rivero missed out on the conclusion of the Fighting Maroons’ big 97-81 victory over the Green Archers on Wednesday. The historic win clinched a Final Four seat for the Diliman-based squad — a first in 21 long years.
“Mas matanda pa sa akin (yung drought). Siyempre happy ako for the players kasi they fought hard for that spot. I have seen them work naman the whole year. I was with them since May,” shared Rivero.
As the former Archer reported for day 2 of Team Pilipinas’ practices in preparation for the fifth window of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, UP scored a 16-point triumph over the Season 80 second-placers to propel themselves to the third spot.
This earns them a semifinal showdown against the Adamson Soaring Falcons. Ranked second in the team standings, the San Marcelino-based squad will have a twice-to-beat advantage over the Maroons.
Rivero hopes that the current batch of players focus on a much bigger prize at the end of their inspiring Season 81 journey after achieving their dream of a Final Four stint.
“They really have to take the compliment, but they have to look at the bigger picture. Dapat nandoon pa rin yung eagerness to win, especially twice-to-beat yung Adamson. Mas isipin nila na we have a chance sa Finals. So why not we give it all. For me, I think it’s much better na isipin na nila what they are capable of doing kasi kaya naman e,” said Rivero.
“Nothing against La Salle, but kanina sobrang saya ko. Hindi ko alam kung bakit pero lahat ng tira kasi nila, shoot talaga e. First half palang, si Juan (Gomez de Liano), start nya four-of-four sa three points. Si Bright (Akhuetie) before half time, mid-second quarter, 10 points, nine rebounds. Sobrang swerte rin,” Rivero shared, as his former school slides down to a precarious fourth spot.
Last to leave the court after national team practice was Rivero, who stayed for a shootaround with veterans Gabe Norwood and Marcio Lassiter. As the two PBA stalwarts made their way out of the hardwood floor, Rivero stayed on to work on his shots. On November 19, the nationals take on the Jordan for a tune-up game in preparation for the qualifiers.
Rivero, together with fellow cadet Kai Sotto, are in line to be part of the roster for the scrimmage against Jordan.
“Actually, my friends are waiting for me outside my condo for a sleepover. Pero sabi ni coach kanina, may possibility na kami yung maglalaro sa Monday. So ako, I’m not really looking at myself playing. Iniisip ko lang, ‘What if palaruin ako?’ So for me, extra (shooting) lang. Kahit hindi ako gamitin sa Monday, sino rin ba magbe-benefit nito? At the end of the day, ako pa rin naman,” Rivero related.
The shifty wingman was part of the 16-man pool for the fourth qualification window last September. Rivero has another shot at cracking a roster spot in the men’s team, currently handled by coach Yeng Guiao.
“Sobrang happy and overwhelming na yung coaches, they trusted me again to be part of this despite being cut in the last pool. For me, ang iniisip ko lang is they’re helping me to improve more,” shared Rivero.