Team Philippines
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - December 5, 2018 - 12:00am

I am not much of a sports fan, but even I got all excited with the dramatic come from behind win of the UP Men’s basketball team.

Win or lose today, they have already won the hearts of the UP community, alumni and the nation by their sheer courage and spirit that brought them this far.

When my friend JJ Atencio told me over lunch two or so years ago that he was investing an obscene amount of money for the training of the UP men’s basketball team in the US, I thought he was nuts. I was grateful, of course, but I still wondered why he was doing this at all.

JJ is an Atenean and no one in his family is from UP. He said he was doing this because he had always loved underdogs with good promise. He said he saw that in the UP team as he had seen it in the Ateneo team years before.

After the US training, there was a much improved UP basketball team, but still not championship caliber. They needed time and more training.

Like any good businessman, JJ made a follow-up investment on the team, sending them for further training in Serbia. From what I heard, this was a most difficult and very physical kind of training experience. It made them more daring and fearless. This is why they are now fighting for the championship, to the surprise of almost everybody.

The Pilipinas Gilas team used to take pride in “puso” even when playing hopeless battles with far better trained and taller teams. “Puso” is that priceless Filipino character that takes us far in a pinch.

“Puso” also connotes teamwork. That is also driving the UP Maroons in their successful drive up from the cellar of UAAP.

“Team” also doesn’t just mean the five players on the court. As JJ the Atenean observed, “the UP community has come alive as the avalanche of students and alumni have begun flocking to the games in such numbers never seen before, all of them believing in the idea that there’s nowhere to go but UP…”

Then again, the Iskolars from Diliman had always had spunk. Manny Pangilinan, another Atenean, observed some years ago that “Outside the basketball court, I like the never-say-die attitude of the community: natatalo na, ang yayabang pa…

“There are many things about the people and spirit of UP which impress me…  Ano bang meron sa fishball sa Diliman na ang saya-saya n’yo matapos kayo ma-eliminate?

 “Saka nanalo lang kayo ng two games—bonfire na! Imagine if UP actually won, or wins again… 

 “I wonder: How could an institution, funded so parsimoniously, graduate consistently impressive and committed people?

 “UP has its battles with budgets, but I truly believe this— and this is a businessman talking— value for money, no university gives a greater return on the nation’s investment for its children than the state university.”

 On Oct. 2, 2002, I wrote a column about the Ateneo basketball team and how they, like the UP Maroons today, showed grit in fighting for the championship against traditional rival, La Salle.

 I observed: “You get the feeling that the Ateneo team is pretty much like the country. Halfway through the season, you would have given it up as a hopeless basket case. How, you must have wondered, can this team hope to dislodge the champions La Salle, if it allows easy victories over weaker teams to slip past them? Even my UP beloved, not known to be of champion breed, won over them!

 “Then the Ateneo team sprung a surprise – a string of victories that landed them precariously, among the top four and eventually, a secure position to challenge the champion team. The Ateneo team surprises us further by beating the champion team twice.

 “While they were at their best, the Ateneans displayed what’s great with this country when we Pinoys put our minds on something… There was teamwork, no superstars who must shine at the expense of the team, everyone knew their roles and played them and you can sense an almost systematic conquest of the foe…

 “Of course the Ateneans lost last Sunday because like most Pinoys on a winning streak, they succumbed to the temptation to relax prematurely… they knew they could lose and live to play the last game…

 “In ASEAN terms, La Salle seems more like Singapore, methodical, well trained, successful and maybe a little boring. Given their precision, you wonder if La Salle’s team is ISO-certified.

 “Ateneo’s more like the unpredictable Pinoys, surviving on sheer guts, native talent and a lot of hubris from the stands. You can’t outshout them even when they are down and out.

 “You can almost imagine what the Ateneo team (or the Pinoy nation, for that matter) could be if it had a little more system, a little more faith in themselves and not so faint of heart so as to falter when pressure builds up at the homestretch.

 “I guess that’s what makes them (and us) interesting. You never know what they (or we) will deliver until they (or we) do… 

 “They are so Pinoy. You know how being a Pinoy is an adventure in itself. And that’s what makes Ateneo a team to cheer for, even if you aren’t an Atenean. You feel like you are cheering for yourself…”

 This afternoon the shoe is on the other foot. Maybe the outcome will show that “puso” is not always enough. It takes time for investment in building a team to bear fruit.

 We can all learn a few lessons in nation building from basketball. Imagine what we can be as a nation if we can think of ourselves as Team Philippines… a sense of nationhood that has eluded us so far.

 Congratulations to both of the teams and their supporters. They have shown what can be accomplished, if we set our minds to get it done.

 Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com.

Follow him on Twitter @boochanco                                        

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