Once again, Paul Desiderio emerged as the hero for the University of the Philippines.
With the game on the line and a chance to make history at stake, Desiderio remained unfazed. Amidst the pressure and bright lights of an intense Final Four duel, he delivered the game-winning basket with 6.6 seconds left to give the Fighting Maroons an 89-87 overtime victory over the Adamson Falcons.
Before that go-ahead basket, Desiderio was also responsible for a late booming triple in overtime that set the stage for a classic finish. The graduating guard truly laid it all on the floor to propel the Fighting Maroons into the UAAP finals for the first time in 32 years.
Desiderio, the man responsible for UP's magical mantra of "Atin 'to" (This is ours) shared that his inspiration in the final sequences came not just from his inner drive but also from a lending hand.
"Actually last week I went to the office of boss Ronald (Mascariñas, Bounty Agro Ventures Inc. President)," he shared in Filipino. "He told me about his life. I was inspired. He told me last week, 'Never give up. No matter what happens, whether you're down or anything, don't give up because you'll go places if you don't give up.'"
Mascariñas, a UP alumnus, is one of the prime supporters of the Philippine men's national basketball team. He is also a man of humble beginnings before his rise in the food business. His words were etched in Desiderio's head in the closing moments against Adamson. UP's fearless leader simply did not give up and refused to lose.
"He told me to give it my all and never give up," Desiderio went on.
On a personal note, it's been quite a ride for the Cebuano standout. After contemplating on leaving UP to enter the PBA, he ultimately decided to stay for the community and play one final season. All his hard work certainly paid off as the Fighting Maroons enter the UAAP's biggest stage.
"I really sacrificed everything," he shared. "It's okay because the community has been waiting for this for a long time. All my sacrifice is for UP."
The score was tied at 87 apiece after Adamson's Jerom Lastimosa made two foul shots. As the clock was winding down, Desiderio took it upon himself to will his team to victory. Fittingly, he went one-on-one against the Falcons' own clutch player Sean Manganti. He backed his defender down, made his move, spun, faked, and pulled up amidst the outstretched arms of Manganti to drill the biggest shot of UP in the last three decades.
"That wasn't a play. That was all him," UP coach Bo Perasol said on Desiderio's heroics. "He really wanted that. You all saw his misses before that, but he knew it was for the win, so he wanted that. He was the one who kept saying we could still win this."
Prior to that shot, Desiderio was struggling with a 3-of-19 shooting clip. The odds were stacked against him but he didn't let doubts cloud his winning moment.
Asked what was going through his mind as soon as he let the ball fly, he answered in the best way possible:
"Of course, atin 'to (this is ours)!"
And now, Desiderio and the Fighting Maroons are headed to the UAAP finals.