Paul Desiderio's journey with the UP Fighting Maroons was all about patience and sacrifice.
From experiencing a winless season when nobody from the Maroon side was watching to clinching a historic finals appearance in front of thousands of fans, Desiderio was more than just a witness to UP's incredible transformation through the years. He was one of the most vital pieces that made it possible.
Six years ago, this kid from Cebu never imagined that he would end his UAAP career on a high note. From this batch of UP players, he was the only remnant of the 0-14 rock bottom ages. He skipped what would have been his sophomore year, and when he came back, the wins were still hard to come by. Amidst the most difficult struggles, Desiderio stayed.
"You're a player from Cebu, you have a 0-14 start, you'll expect that you're going to transfer to another school, but I became patient," he recalled. "I persisted even if we looked like a joke, at least now that I'm graduating, we're in the finals."
After the Fighting Maroons narrowly missed out on a semifinals appearance last year, the 21-year-old guard contemplated on making a leap to the professional ranks. But as his way of giving back to the community, he decided to return for one last ride. This time, he had to take a step back to allow his other teammates to shine.
"It was not easy because back in Season 80, I was the first option. But when Juan [Gomez de Liaño] and Bright [Akhuetie] came, as a captain, I had to lower my pride so that my team can succeed. That's what I did, I lowered my pride, I lowered my ego," Desiderio said.
"Never give up, just always think positive. That's the problem before with UP, when we're down, we lose our desire and then it goes on. I'm happy that it changed." Paul Desiderio
The graduating skipper gave way, but he was still UP's automatic go-to guy during crunch time. His nerves of steel propelled his team to victories that ultimately booked them a trip to the promised land.
More than his clutch baskets, however, Desiderio will be remembered best for his "Atin 'to" (This is ours) battle cry. It all started when he blurted out during a timeout that he can knock down the winning basket. The coaches were not even done designing the play, but he was just oozing with confidence at that time. Even if you're in doubt, when you hear that kind of intensity and passion from your leader, you just can't help but start having faith.
"When my teammates always say 'this is ours' and it's no longer me saying it, it makes me happy," shared Desiderio.
It was meant to inspire his teammates and make them believe that they could win, to help change the losing culture that has haunted them for many years. But now, Desiderio's immortal words mean so much more for the UP community. From a spontaneous phrase uttered in the heat of the moment, it has become a uniting force for the UP faithful.
"Never give up, just always think positive," said Desiderio. "That's the problem before with UP, when we're down, we lose our desire and then it goes on. I'm happy that it changed."
Desiderio will not graduate with a championship, but his silver medal still glitters like gold, especially after all the ups and downs that he encountered while wearing the Maroon jersey. Now, he looks forward to seeing the team fly even higher in the years to come.
"We didn't get the championship, but hopefully next year," he said. "People are expecting that next year, they will surpass what we have done. There's a huge pressure but I think they can do it. For me, next year will be our redemption."