<
>

Bo Perasol brings UP one step closer to the promised land

The UP Fighting Maroons took down the Adamson Soaring Falcons in the UAAP Season 81 Final Four and snapped a 32-year finals drought in dramatic fashion.

"If you are going to make like a telenovela, how are you going to make it better than that? You already won it, then you think, how can you win it better? With the overtime win," said UP head coach Bo Perasol, who shed tears of joy after his team survived a nail-biting finish on Wednesday.

Indeed, there was no better way to end decades of misery than to emerge victorious in a classic basketball showdown that will be remembered for many years.

The Fighting Maroons were comfortably ahead after two and a half quarters, but as expected, the Falcons refused to give up and launched a furious rally that erased the gap and forced overtime.

Eager to make history, both teams unleashed big shot after big shot, but everything boiled down to the dying seconds of the extra period.

The score was tied 87-all, players on both sides were huffing and puffing, almost 21,000 fans inside the Big Dome were on their feet. Paul Desiderio had the ball. He had just knocked down a huge three-pointer, but all game long, he was struggling to hit his shots. When it mattered the most, the team captain and the inspiration behind UP's 'Atin 'to' (This is ours) battle cry did not hesitate to take over.

Desiderio nailed a gutsy dagger that sent the UP community - a fanbase long deprived of such triumphant moments - into a frenzied celebration.

"The burden is not just winning the game, it's all about making an impact to a community that number one is very hungry for winning," said Perasol.

Before anybody believed that this could happen, there was one man who dared to make a difference. Nearly three years ago, when Perasol took on the coaching job, he accepted the responsibility of turning around a sinking program and a losing culture.

Many people doubted and criticized his ways, especially early this season when the Fighting Maroons struggled to rise to the upper tier of the standings. But Perasol stayed on course and trusted that his team would eventually see it through.

"There was a time that we already gave up, but I told myself that if I cannot stand for my team, that if I cannot be confident for my team, that if I cannot believe for my team, who else will believe?" shared Perasol.

It's been a long time coming for the perennial cellar-dwellers who had to undergo years of mocking and ridicule before finally reaching this stage.

"For 30 years, we were the butt of jokes, we didn't have a bragging right that our team is strong in basketball," said Perasol. "In any aspect of our society, there's someone from UP in politics, business, judiciary and all of that, but when it comes to basketball, UP really comes last."

UP has never been included in conversations about basketball greatness, but the Fighting Maroons are determined to change that - one victory at a time. The team had to endure painful heartbreaks in the process but the steep and arduous path just made this historic achievement all the more sweeter.

"The road is not easy going here, so you have to find the courage, the skills, the talents, the persistence to be in a place like this that we are enjoying right now," said Perasol. "We have to cross the bridge into greatness, and that's what the players responded to do. It wasn't an easy journey but it's all worth it."