MANILA, Philippines – Glasses clinked, tears flowed, laughter was shared, and new memories were forged in celebration.
This was the scene at the University Hotel in the Diliman campus of University of the Philippines late Friday night, May 13, as a community which starved for glory finally commemorated the Fighting Maroons’ return back atop the UAAP men’s basketball hierarchy.
“Everyone was hungry for victory because of recent events, so this is a wonderful gift in a time of darkness,” UP chancellor Fidel Nemenzo, DSc told Rappler during the festivities.
“This team gave us hope for more fights to come.”
Following UP’s overtime conquest over defending champion Ateneo in Game 3 of the UAAP Season 84 finals, preparations were arranged in a rush for a small but authentic celebration with players of the UPMBT, coaches, sponsors, management, staff, family, and close friends.
The initial idea was for a simple dinner to take place at a restaurant in Seaside near Mall of Asia Arena, although it was decided by the organizers that the event would be more meaningful if held in campus, given the magnitude of their accomplishment.
The first order of business in planning was acquiring enough food and drinks for everyone. The party wasn’t prepared in advance to avoid jinxing the result, so sudden calls were made to friends and providers for quick deliveries of beer, pizza, chicken, cake, and other dishes.
Not long after arriving at their lodging, the Fighting Maroons gathered at the open grounds of the hotel for a mini-bonfire which served as a preview for the actual bonfire that’s scheduled on Saturday night. The players basked in the adoration of the crowd, joining in chanting the university’s notable cheers, and thankful in their final messages.
Nearly eight years ago, the Fighting Maroons, fresh off new leadership via Nowhere To Go But UP, celebrated a singular win in a season with a huge bonfire. This time, they’ll throw one to celebrate the end of a 36-year title drought. That road to redemption was clearly the theme of Friday evening, as many in attendance were still processing UP’s new basketball reality.
“I just want to say… get used to this feeling because we’re going to start winning and this community deserves this,” graduating player Ricci Rivero said in his parting message.
Rivero, like the other Fighting Maroons, had his girlfriend, parents, and siblings present. Players came in and out, taking turns getting dressed, dining, and taking pictures. Some took advantage of finally being out of their bubble setup and celebrated elsewhere after spending time at the hotel.
One key person who arrived a bit late was UP head coach Goldwin Monteverde, who is now the only tactician that owns a winning record (3-2) over multi-titled Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin in the UAAP. Why was the rookie coach, who is now a champion himself, late? Because he was reviewing tape from Game 3, even with the season over.
Monteverde’s work ethic, humility, and composure are characteristics which have made him a popular figure within the Fighting Maroons.
Every now and then, though, he’s reminded to take a break. That was the case following UP’s loss to Ateneo in Game 2, when his late-night film-viewing session was temporarily halted by the arrival of UP backer and friend Pato Gregorio, who brought a bottle of whiskey to convince Monteverde that unwinding could be a good idea.
“The first time we won, I was 17 years old. I saw it. I experienced it. We celebrated. We only were students. We didn’t have any money. We bought rum from the sari-sari store,” Gregorio reminisced to Rappler on Friday.
“I’m turning 55 now. In a few years, I will retire. At least, it happened,” he said, looking around at his friends, brads, and team with pride in his eyes.
“That is the story of our generation.”
One of Gregorio’s favorite memories is the successful recruitment of finals hero JD Cagulangan, who used to play high school basketball for La Salle Green Hills and played one season in college with the Green Archers. UP tried to recruit him for three years, only successfully doing so when Cagulangan finally saw transferring to Diliman as the better opportunity.
It’s safe to say their patience worked.
The number 13 was also a theme, given it was a lucky Friday the 13th night, it’s Cagulangan’s jersey number, and the total number of points he scored in the game – a common conversation topic throughout the evening.
When asked for his thoughts, UP president Danilo Concepcion surmised his sentiments in two words: “I’m speechless.”
Basking in the happiness surrounding the air were Robina Gokongwei-Pe and Maret Bautista-Follosco, two of UP’s original “Godmothers.” The duo was among those who supported the program when it lacked help, players, and wins, staying true to their belief that one day, the Fighting Maroons could become a sustainable winning program.
Some thought these would only stay as dreams.
On Friday, those dreams turned to the ultimate reality.
“This is the fruit of 12 years of patiently waiting for this championship,” Bautista-Follosco said.
When asked to summarize what she was feeling, Gokongwei-Pe paused and collected her thoughts. In those brief seconds, it seemed like years’ worth of memories came flooding all at once, as she could only laugh at the journey that they’ve been through.
“I’ve always believed in the school and the team. I’m on cloud nine,” she said, before eventually joking:
“The players, I found them pogi (handsome). Now, I find them even more pogi (handsome).”
And then there was Renan Dalisay, the founder of Nowhere To Go But UP, who many in the program consider the central web that connects everyone together.
Though he was busy for most of this season helping run Vice President candidate Kiko Pangilinan’s campaign, he stayed updated with the Fighting Maroons’ progress, endeared by their constant improvement, and believing this could be the year.
Before Game 3, Dalisay remembered the beginning of NTGBU in a private chat with Rappler, saying: “Back then, the [UPMBT] was hungry for more food, for more support. Today, we are hungry for the championship.”
The mission is finally accomplished.
“When the buzzer finally sounded and UP reclaimed the championship after 36 years, I shed a tear knowing that if you just do the right thing, no matter how long and difficult the journey, your sacrifices will pay off,” he said.
“It was just a dream that gave us hope. That same hope made this happen.”
There’s a saying that in life, having hope is the only thing that comes free.
But as the UP Maroons have proven, sometimes, having hope is all you need. – Rappler.com