Cellar dwellers no more

POINT OF VIEW - Juaniyo Arcellana - The Philippine Star

Before someone strikes that awful chord by saying the UP Fighting Maroons basketball team is aiming for new records of futility with three bridesmaid finishes in the past five seasons of the UAAP, most of the Diliman faithful still remember the teams of about a decade ago when UP notched a perfect record – zero wins and 14 losses. Statisticians point out that in a span of nine seasons from 2007 to 2015, the Maroons racked up an unenviable 13 wins and 113 losses, a win less than the team’s overall record this year alone which still fell a few points short of the championship.

Consuelo de bobo for the Iskolar ng Bayan, but there was a time when Diliman held a bonfire after the Maroons won their first game in two years. A solitary win to end a run of more than 20 losses overlapping three seasons surely felt like a championship, a direct contrast to the lone loss against eventual champions De La Salle University on Dec. 6 with all the marbles on the line that felt like the whole world crashing in the Big One, epicenter Sunken Garden.

Maybe it takes a while to wean oneself away from a culture of losing, or UP being UP is just not used to being the top seed, top dog doesn’t become us having gotten used to being bottom dog. Time was when we used to watch the Maroons build modest leads in the early quarters, then slowly and painfully unravel as the game wore on and fall behind by points insurmountable, indirectly proportional to numbers on the game clock. Or has that storyline ever really changed?

Well, it’s up to coach Gold and operations man Bo and the rest of the guys to pick themselves and the whole community up for Season 87, and as they say “give back” to the faithful who, back in the day, watched the games in far off Rizal Memorial as part of PE requirements. Hoarse voiced mommy herding us greenhorns outside the women’s swimming pool beside the former gymnasium that resembled a giant handbag that could perhaps be picked up by a stray alien hand from the sky, for the long ride across town in a big bus.

The hand dealt us during the first year of PE requirement to watch UAAP was a good one – after six straight losses to start the season, the Maroons won their last four games. There were only six teams in double round robin then, because both Ateneo and La Salle were in the older league NCAA.

A shooting power forward named Suarez, peppery point guard Bernardino, off guard Sonny Co were pleasant surprises in that mecca, where from the bleachers the squeak of rubber shoes on hardwood was audible as the bouncing ball and swish of net, and the smell of oil of winter green, dried sweat and occasional stale urine permeated the dark air under what felt like daylight lamps.

Then, win or lose, the traditional singing of the anthem that ends affirming that our feeling for the alma mater will never change wherever distant lands we go, yup even if it’s a championship, three runners-up and a final four appearance in the past five years. There’s always a silver lining because after all those years of losing, UP still managed a most valuable player during a winless season, the late Fort Acuña in 1969. Which just might not be possible today, even if he was a do-it-all combo guard-center forward of his era.

That’s because today’s MVPs, no matter how much of what’s called a two-way player, should at least belong to a team that made the final 4, statistical points added for the better record, not to mention potential media votes.

The omnipresent mantra runs, where to go but UP, even if it’s just one more rung so near yet so far?

Might be added that the two UP championships 36 years apart bookended the fall of the Marcos dictatorship and the return of his son to the Palace in the first tournament coming out of pandemic lockdowns. Does this mean that it will take another people power revolution or COVID-19 for UP to again win it all? Manong Johnny, of course, remembers when UP won top prize before the Pacific War, when the university was in the NCAA, just as memes declare he remembers the painful breakup of Samson and Delilah.

Oh to be immortal again in Diliman. But La Salle must be given its due, the boys from Taft having proven steadier in the clutch. To think that the legendary Brother Andrew, in a graduate class during the mid-

90s on the Malate campus, wondered why the students of the Christian brothers were so enamored of basketball, how they loved the game. Beats me, he might have said, sometimes both sides play like bums whether or not Jesus lives in their hearts.

I could be making that up about Brother Andrew, whose birthday every four years on Feb. 29 came more often than a Maroons championship. The biggest winners are guard Ricci Rivero, who won with the Archers in his rookie year then with the Maroons in his senior year, and ex-presidential daughter’s boyfriend Evan Nelle, who duplicated the feat with San Beda as rookie and now with La Salle in his swan song, both players internationalists of the first order.

The Carillon in Diliman should be ringing green songs in the spirit of sportsmanship and the season of camaraderie, marked by an exchange of sweaty shirts between opponents to conclude another great battle – till the next we try to run each other down.

vuukle comment


  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with