Bo Perasol finally keeps his end of the bargain for UP

Special Olympics athlete Matthew Millett of Team USA with the 3/4 court buzzer beater!

If you traveled back in time to 2014 and told any UP fan that their team would snag a Final Four berth in four years’ time, they’d probably look at you in disbelief before bursting out in laughter.

That would have probably been a fair reaction. Even an emotional Bo Perasol, who just watched his team crash the Final Four for the first since 1997, couldn’t believe his eyes at first when he looked at the scoreboard as the buzzer sounded in the team’s 97-81 win over La Salle.

“‘Di ko pa naiisip kanina but when I looked at the scoreboard while we were singing our hymn and merong asterisk ‘yung ‘UP Maroons’, naiyak ako. Parang ‘Totoo na ba ‘yan? Kasama ba kami diyan?’” he shared as the team snatched UAAP Season 81’s third seed.

“Right now, it’s a reality. The asterisk says it all. We’re part of the Final Four cast.”

“Watched” was the accurate term for what the head coach did in the sidelines in their clash against the Green Archers. A simple pre-game talk made his life easier on Wednesday as the squad hit the court determined to finally get what was theirs for the taking.

“I really didn’t expect the kind of response that my players did when we started the game. I just painted to them the picture of us not having any accolades in the last decades,” he said. “I was like part of the audience watching them. I coached less, I just encouraged them and made sure that I made some quick reminders, but it was just them.”

“I think they were able to grasp the idea that this was the chance to be able to make history as far as the UP community is concerned,” he added.

It’s all for — and about — the community anyway, as far as Perasol is concerned. After catching a ride to Diliman back in 2016 to take over the seniors’ basketball program, the expectations mounted and the pressure to immediately succeed increased over time.

Some of that pressure may have been brought about by the arrival of notable recruits to bolster their lineup, but most of it was admittedly the coach’s own doing.

He had a pretty good reason for stoking the fire: more expectations meant more eyes were on them, and more eyes meant more reasons to deliver.

“If you think about it, I created it. The expectations I said in my first year and second year, I wanted them to expect a lot from us because when you expect something like that, you see the crowd. They will be there. I want them to pressure, to push the team to excel,” explained Perasol.

That ploy could have easily backfired on him, and it certainly looked like it was going to happen early this year as the team flailed out of the gates to win only three out of their seven assignments in the first round. Those struggles, however, only made the 45-year-old tactician push back along with his squad.

“‘Yung burden ko kasi is to win it for the community eh,” he continued. “You see them, you have been in the institution for quite a long time, iniisip mo they’re really hungry for it, they’re really thirsty for it, you want to deliver it to them.”

Perasol also said that he used the increased expectations to remind his team that it’s not about him or about the players, and even privately considered leaving his post should they fail.

It’s a good thing they answered the call every time.

“I have an obligation to the community [and] if I’m not effective as your leader, I might as well step down and somebody else will step in because this is not about me. This is about winning for the community and if I’m not effective as your leader, I have to step down. This isn’t personal, I told them, and whenever I do that, they respond always,” he said.

After last night, it seems Perasol isn’t going anywhere just yet. After a handful of winless seasons before his tenure and after falling tantalizingly short of the second round twice before, he finally gave UP a taste of what it’s been raring to get in the last two decades.

“I don’t have social media but I’m sure they are right now expressing how happy they are, the community, the students. I’m quite sure that they are delirious right now thinking about this win,” he grinned.

The job’s not done, of course. They have an even bigger task at hand against Adamson, a team that’s had UP’s number this year, and the odds of making it past the Falcons are pretty stacked against them.

But seeing how they’ve overcome anything hurled at them in the recent years, one should already know by now that it’s not going to stop them from trying and leaving it all on the floor.

“What I’m confident about is that my team is going to fight. I don’t know what we are going to do, we need to review our games against them. We need to review how we lost against them. But this is basketball. We have a chance against them,” he stressed.

“We’re not going to offer that in a silver platter for them. We’re going to fight for it. Knowing these guys, we’re going to find a way how we can win.”

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