Breakthrough in UAAP
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - November 28, 2018 - 12:00am

Since the UAAP instituted the Final Four format in 1994, Adamson and UP are the only teams never to reach the Last Dance. Before this season, the Falcons were 0-7 in playoff games and 0-5 in playoff series while the Fighting Maroons were 1-3 in playoff games and 0-2 in playoff series.

This season, both teams are a win away from making it to the best-of-three Finals where top-seed defending champion Ateneo awaits. It’ll be a breakthrough for either squad. The do-or-die game is set at the Smart Araneta Coliseum today. The winner advances to battle the Blue Eagles in Game 1 of the Finals at the MOA Arena on Saturday. Game 2 will be at the Big Dome on Dec. 5 and Game 3, if necessary, will be on Dec. 8 at the MOA Arena.

Before the Final Four era, Adamson’s first and only championship came in 1977-78 when Hector Calma led the charge. UP’s second and last title came in 1986-87 with Benjie Paras, Ronnie Magsanoc, Eric Altamirano and Joey Guanio under coach Joe Lipa. Win or lose in today’s knockout game, Adamson and UP are assured of their place in UAAP basketball history.

UP and Adamson had contrasting starts this season. The Maroons went 2-3 and Adamson, 5-0. The Falcons finished the eliminations with a 10-4 record and UP, 8-6 tied with FEU and La Salle. Because of a superior quotient, the Maroons took No. 3 outright while the Tamaraws claimed the No. 4 slot by virtue of a playoff win over the Archers.  In the semifinals, Adamson could’ve clinched a Finals ticket with a win over UP since it had a twice-to-beat advantage. But UP upset the Falcons, 73-71, last Saturday to arrange the winner-take-all showdown today. It was UP’s first win over Adamson this season after losing twice, 69-68 and 80-72, in the eliminations.

In statistical standings, UP is No. 1 in offense with 80.3 points, No. 1 in field goal percentage at 45 percent, No. 1 in points-in-the-paint at 44.4, No. 1 in assists at 19.9, No. 1 in fastbreak points at 14.6, No. 1 in second chance points allowed at 10.9 and No. 1 in rebounds allowed at 40.5. Adamson is No. 1 in turnover points at 16, No. 1 in steals at 7.2, No. 1 in assists allowed at 11.3, No. 2 in fastbreak points allowed at 9.7 and No. 2 in defense at 70.6. The stats show that Adamson thrives in a defense-oriented game while UP likes to run the floor.

For UP, qualifying for its first Final Four in 21 years was a milestone.  “No words can explain,” said UP alumnus Patrick Gregorio, the POC secretary-general. “Tears just fell, I just couldn’t stop it. It’s all about Maroon pride, so pure.” Gregorio was booked to leave yesterday for Tokyo to attend the ANOC (Association of National Olympic Committees) Conference with POC president Ricky Vargas, POC chairman Rep. Bambol Tolentino and lawyer Al Agra but cancelled to show his support for UP today. “Nagpaalam ako to be excused for humanitarian reasons,” said Gregorio jokingly. “Mr. Vargas and Mr. Tolentino allowed me to stay behind. Mr. Vargas told me, one game to remaking history, a game at a time to greatness. Mr. Tolentino told me he knew I couldn’t leave.”

Five Maroons are playing in their final UAAP season – Paul Desiderio, Gelo Vito, Diego Dario, Jarrell Lim and J. J. Espanola. Of the five, Desiderio stands out as the leader of the pack. “I was scouting another player in Cebu during a high school championship game about six years ago,” said UP coach Bo Perasol. “I ended up not signing that player but instead was impressed by the main gunner of the other team – a burly, do-all-you-can player who was Paul. As young as he was then, one could see the ambition and fire in his eyes. The look which tells you, I’m going to make it no matter what. I had the privilege of seeing and watching him embody that principle. I’m a big Ginebra fan during Sen. Jaworski’s time and I see a semblance of Pido Jarencio and Jayvee Gayoso in Paul.”

Gregorio said he met Desiderio’s parents at the Waterfront Hotel lobby in Cebu to finalize his recruitment six years ago. “Puno na ang pader ng bahay namin ng awards ni Paul sa basketball, pero bakante pa ang nasa gitna, diploma sa UP ang ilalagay ko diyan,” Desiderio’s mother Cristine told Gregorio. Desiderio will soon graduate with a degree in physical education.

Desiderio said in his Final Four debut, it’s unimaginable how far UP has gone. “Isa na lang ito,” he said. “Laban tayo. Hindi ako makapaniwala, isang laro na lang, Finals na.” Desiderio, who scored a career-high 31 points, including 18 in the first quarter, in UP’s 95-82 win over FEU in the second round, is averaging 13.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists this season, his fifth in the UAAP. What a journey for Desiderio who averaged only 2.9 points as a rookie in 2013 when UP went 0-14.

Gregorio said he personally witnessed Desiderio’s rise to stardom. “Paul’s idols are James Yap and P. J. Simon and of course, his papa Abner who works with PAL Cebu and is a good basketball player, too,” said Gregorio. “Paul was the CESAFI MVP at University of the Visayas high school and played on the Youth team under coach Jamike Jarin. When UP was struggling in the UAAP, other schools tried to recruit Paul but it was coach Jamike who convinced Paul to stay. During summer vacations, Paul conducts basketball clinics in his hometown of Liloan to help aspiring players. One of those who helped to recruit Paul was Atty. Aris Batuhan of Cebu, the UP frat brother of Atty. Eric Espanol, the legal head of Smart.”

Gregorio said Cavite Gov. Johnvic Remulla, as UP’s team manager and prime mover of the Nowhere To Go But UP Foundation, is a major influence in the Maroons’ resurgence. He even joined the squad in Serbia for training during the offseason. Robina Gokongwei-Pe, alumni head Eugene Ong of Epsilon Chi and assistant Bart Ronquillo and Dan Palami are also major supporters of the State University team. Other sponsors include Robinsons Retail Inc., 3M, NXLED, Mighty Sports and J. J. Atencio. UP’s new practice facility was unveiled this year to herald a new beginning for the Maroons.

When UP won last Saturday to force a do-or-die playoff with Adamson, among the fans in the stands were Vice President Jojo Binay, Robina, UP president Danny Concepcion, SBP chairman Sen. Sonny Angara, coach Yeng Guiao, J. B. Baylon and the never-say-die Gregorio brothers Patrick, Ryan and Allan. “This wouldn’t be possible without the support of the entire UP community and Gov. Jonvic,” said Gregorio. “Making it this far is for them.”

ADAMSON FALCONS BASKETBALL UAAP UP MAROONS
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