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How the UP Fighting Maroons became a recruiting juggernaut

University of the Philippines coach Bo Perasol said the program's desire to build a sustainable future led to the influx of recruits that have strengthened the team's core for years to come.

In an interview with former PBA commissioner Noli Eala on the Power & Play radio show on Saturday, Perasol said it was as early as his arrival back in 2016 that a plan had been set in motion to ensure the Fighting Maroons would stay competitive consistently.

"At the onset, ang talagang pinag-uusapan namin even noong naging maayos-ayos na 'yung aming performance ay kung papaano ba magkakaroon ng sustainability," he explained. "Alam mo naman 'yung mga programang nagiging maayos in the long-term, katulad ng Ateneo, La Salle, FEU, hindi sila personality-based.

"Mawala man 'yung coach, tuloy-tuloy pa rin. Hindi 'yung tinanggal mo 'yung coach, tanggal lahat, simula ka ulit sa umpisa. That had been the trademark of UP in years past."

With the help of new backers, the Nowhere To Go But UP Foundation, Perasol said support for the university's basketball program was streamlined -- a far cry from the system of years past, when certain fraternities, organizations and individuals would take turns in trying to boost the team.

"In the past, kasi nga walang programa, certain organizations sasabihin nila, 'O kami naman muna kukuha ng coach, kami magpo-pondo.' Malalaman nila in the future na hindi pala kaya, so bibitawan nila. So sasabihin ng isang fraternity, 'O kami naman mag-a-appoint.' Sasabihin nila sa chancellor," Perasol said.

"[Ngayon] hindi na isang fraternity, hindi na isang organization lamang ang nagma-manage ng team. Iba-iba, napakarami. In fact, kaya marami nang gustong tumulong kasi nararamdaman nila na it's not about one organization or one fraternity managing it. It becomes inclusive for anybody who is willing to help the program," added the coach.

A more consolidated support system later attracted more supporters in alumni who contributed to the Fighting Maroon's secure future, said Perasol.

"Kung matatandaan mo there was a time ang Ateneo, ang La Salle, mostly ang kanilang fundings nanggagaling talaga sa alumni. Ang medyo kaibahan lang sa nagawa namin in the last few years was ginawa naming institutionalized 'yung sponsorship, pero konektado pa rin sa UP. Mostly the owners, the CEOs are UP graduates. Kung makikita mo ang aming logos diyan, 'yun 'yung nagbibigay ng pondo sa'min and in the same manner, meron pa ring mga gustong tumulong. Alam mo naman ang gutom ng UP pagdating sa larangan ng basketball."

Such an initiative was necessary, according to Perasol, in order to help the university compete with bigger basketball programs in terms of training and recruiting.

"Kaya ko nasabi na kailangan meron ka ring pondo at parang 'war chest' kasi hindi ka makakatapat kung hindi ka magkakaroon ng magagandang training abroad, katulad ng ginagawa ng Ateneo or La Salle or kung sino man," he said. "Hindi ka rin makakakuha niyan kung hindi mo sila bibigyan na pakiramdam na nakakakain sila ng maayos, or nakaka-byahe tayo ng domestic.

"Lahat ng 'yan, nangangailangan ng pera. 'Yun ang sinasabi ko na kapag wala ka niyan, titingin ka na lang doon. Dati ang pinakamalayo naming pinupuntahan ay Los Banos or UP Baguio, habang tinitingnan mo 'yun Ateneo nasa Las Vegas, ang La Salle nasa Chicago. Pagpasok mo ng Araneta, manginginig ka na eh."

This financial stability would later assure Perasol and his staff would be able to plan for years ahead. Case in point: UP was able to prepare for life without big man Bright Akhuetie after UAAP Season 83 by signing Centro Escolar University's (CEU) Malick Diouf as an eventual replacement.

"Halimbawa si Bright Akhuetie, wala na siya next year. So nag-isip ako, 'Sino ba kapalit niya?' And you know ang kapalit niya is magkakaroon ng isang taon ng residency. So naghanap kami ngayon, like ito si Malick Diouf from CEU. When the time came na naging available siya, we tried to recruit him to be part of our program, and he agreed, including CEU of course," he explained.

"Alam namin that Ricci Rivero is going to be gone for next year, even Kobe (Paras). Next season, iisa na lang ang magiging eligible namin. Pinapapasok na namin ngayon ang new blood."

Aside from Diouf, UP also cemented its team of the future by recruiting National University-Nazareth School stars Carl Tamayo and Gerry Abadiano, Xavier's Miguel Tan, Gilas Youth guard RC Calimag, Filipino-Canadians Anton Eusebio and Alonso Tan, Fil-Australian project Ethan Kirkness, and Fil-American guard Sam Dowd, as well as transferees Jancork Cabahug of University of Visayas and Joel Cagulangan of La Salle.

Among all of Perasol's new prospects, the coach says his most recent recruits in Tamayo and Abadiano may be the most battle-ready come next season.

"They have the championship experience," said Perasol, "at ang katawan nila, handa na."

"Syempre, it's just an assumption. Ina-assume lang natin na ready sila, at ina-assume natin 'yung kanilang potential," he added. "But in the end, it will be all up to them how they are going to realize those potentials."

The duo was widely expected to cross over to the men's team after successful high school careers that culminated in them leading the Bullpups to back-to-back Juniors titles in Seasons 81 and 82. However, some reported internal strife at the NU camp, as well as the allure of joining a stable program, paved the way for Abadiano and Tamayo's entry into UP.

"We all knew syempre pupunta naman talaga ng NU 'yan supposedly. But there came an opening when I heard na si Kevin (Quimbao, Tamayo and Abadiano's teammate,) was already in La Salle. So I knew baka pwedeng makumbinse rin namin 'yung naiiwan na dalawa na maging part din ng programa namin," he said.

"It wasn't as hard for Carl because he has an aunt na nagpapalaki sa kanya at nagpapaaral na alumni ng UP. Katulong niya sa pagre-recruit at pagkukumbinse. And Gerry, syempre we told him that ang programa namin is long-term. Alam niyang wala kaming point guard or shooting guard in the future. They saw the opportunity to play for our program."

With a team and a plan in place, Perasol said he's brimming with optimism about the team's future.

"Modesty aside, I'm very excited about the prospects for our team," he admitted. "Kung kailan man mangyayari itong season na 'to, alam mo na meron ka pa ring ilalaban. Going into the next season, alam mo that youth is coming in, new blood is coming in, so alam mo na exciting ulit. So that's the beauty of seeing it in our way na hindi lang mangyayari 'yun without the right program kasi hindi ka naman pupuntahan kung alam nilang wala kang kinabukasan."