Bright Akhuetie gave everything he had for the UP Fighting Maroons. Despite an injured knee, he was hell-bent on playing for his team in Game 2 of the UAAP finals.
"That would have been up to me (not to play) but I insisted," Akhuetie said. "I just can't stay out there and not play."
Akhuetie suffered a gruesome knee injury after an unintended collision with Ateneo's Angelo Kouame in Game 1 last Saturday. Fortunately, the Nigerian reinforcement suffered no major injury and was cleared to play. After a quiet outing of 10 points and five rebounds in the first game, he bounced back with 19 points and eight rebounds in Game 2. Still, UP could not extend the series, losing 99-81.
"I wanted to stay out there and give what I could. Too bad it didn't go our way," Akhuetie said.
Akhuetie arrived in the UAAP with a ton of expectations. He was highly recruited coming out of the University of Perpetual Help Altas where he earned two NCAA Mythical Team selections. He had the size, skill, and winning attitude, that fit perfectly for the up and coming Fighting Maroons. True enough, he made an immediate impact in his first year in the league.
He captured the Most Valuable Player award, the UAAP's highest individual honor, racking up a league-best 82.5 statistical points in the elimination round. The 6-foot-7 big man averaged 18.9 points on 60.5 percent field-goal shooting and 14.6 rebounds. He was truly a force to be reckoned with. With his help, UP entered the postseason for the first time in 21 years and gave the school its first taste of the finals since 1986.
"Honestly, it felt great. Like what I've been saying, no one expected us to get at this level but we did. Yeah, we did great!" he said on his first year playing for the Fighting Maroons. "They never thought we were going to make it especially with the way we started the season. But we made it to the Finals baby!"
"It's been a while since the UP community was happy with our result. That's why we have to keep our heads up," he added.
After a successful debut season and a finals appearance to boot, the pressure will once again be pitted against Akhuetie and the Fighting Maroons. An unexpected postseason berth and a loss to a mighty champion are surely worth applauding. Come next year, however, there is a level of excellence that they will have to achieve after setting the bar so high this season.
"It's still the same, it's still going to be basketball," Akhuetie said heading into Season 82. "We have to work with what we have to improve on from this season. That's just it. It's still going to be the same game, grinding and hustling like before."
"We just have to work harder to get that chip."