"Amin na 'to (this is ours)," hinted Coach Yeng Guiao before he announced the NLEX Road Warriors' choice for the fourth overall pick of the 2018 PBA Rookie Draft.
Not a lot of people got it. Not even the guy he was referring to.
The phrase sounded familiar to Paul Desiderio who was tucked inside the backstage holding area for draftees. But it didn't exactly catch his attention. Seconds after though, he finally heard Guiao call his name, making him the official fourth pick.
Desiderio wore a look of shock as he was shown on the big screen.
For a split second, everything went back to Paul. The winless years, the 'atin 'to' moment, the glorious run and the tears that fell when he played his last game for UP.
Then he snapped back to the present. He had a stage to climb, a jacket to wear (over his maroon suit) and new teammates to meet.
"I couldn't believe it. I thought I would have been lucky to be picked even just late in the first round," the former UP Fighting Maroon shared. "Rain or Shine told me that they would use their pick on me if I was still available. But I never imagined getting drafted that early."
The Cebuano guard had always been a big name in college basketball. He had also represented the country as part of youth national teams. But the struggles that UP had before almost took away his confidence and his basketball dream.
"When I was a rookie, we went 0-14. That really took a toll on my confidence. As a kid from Cebu, I began to wonder if I can really keep up with the level of competition in Manila," he stated.
Thankfully, Desiderio did not give up. Because soon he was one of the leaders of a massive UP run that broke a 32-year UAAP Finals drought. Soon, he was one of the biggest heroes in one of the most incredible stories in college basketball.
Without question, UP's Season 81 story boosted the stock of Desiderio.
Later in the draft, two other former Fighting Maroons were selected with Diego Dario going to Blackwater and Kyles Lao joining Desiderio in NLEX.
"I'm really happy that all the UP boys got drafted," Paul said. "I also want to thank the UP community. I hope they continue to support us in the next chapter of our careers."
Coach Yeng, who also graduated from the University of the Philippines, is ecstatic to have a Fighting Maroon in his roster. But he admits that there could be further plans for the young guard.
"We were looking at several guys. Paul was one of the options. The decision only became apparent hours before the draft," Guiao explained.
"Taking Paul with the fourth pick serves a double purpose. If we keep him, we will be very happy. But if we're able to make him an option to get a quality big man, then that's also what we need in order to be a contender."
Whatever is next for Desiderio, he's ready.
And great as that season 81 campaign was for him and his Fighting Maroons, Paul knows it's time to write a new story in the PBA.