MANILA, Philippines – One of the secrets about sports that fanatics won’t often tell you is that the losses stay embedded in one’s memories more than the wins.
What is it Don Draper said about happiness, again?
“But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.”
The same principle applies to winning.
Because, what is the feeling of winning? It’s a moment before you need to win again.
Now the defeats, that’s a different experience. The triumphs of victory come and go like the moods of the sky. But the losses? The heartbreaking crushers? The “Oh, so close” moments? Those stick with you forever, like the first time you experience falling off your bike.
That’s sports. That’s part of its beauty: the struggle, followed by vindication. Because it’s in those brief windows of victorious celebrations that one finally says, “Well, it was worth it.”
On Thursday, April 21, the Adamson Soaring Falcons finally achieved something they hadn’t accomplished since the second-round of the 2018 UAAP men’s basketball tournament: they defeated the darlings of the UAAP, the upstart UP Fighting Maroons, in another thrilling installment of what’s growing to be this collegiate league’s most intense on-court rivalry.
There would be no choke job this time.
Jerom Lastimosa played the role of superhero for an Adamson community that’s growing fond of their new basketball varsity program, hitting the game-clinching dagger to exorcise late-game demons from the past. Nash Racela has showered his collegiate hoops magic on another university, building a respectable culture for a program that continues to make a commitment to playing winning basketball.
“We were able to beat the powerhouse team, so yeah, nakakatuwa lang (it’s really thrilling) because I really think our players deserved [this]. Mabigat yung pinagdaanan nila (They went through a lot),” Racela said following the game.
The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak for an 8-2 UP team that now faces a tight battle against 7-3 La Salle for the second twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four hunt. Adamson (4-6) won its third straight game, creating a three-way tie with FEU and NU, two universities who won UAAP titles in the last 10 years, for the remaining semifinal slot.
It’s an incredible turnaround, considering Adamson dropped to 1-6 at the conclusion of the first round following the same loss to La Salle where their foreign recruit, Lenda Douanga, hurt his ankle late in the final quarter.
The injury to Douanga was somewhat a blessing in disguise. As Racela admitted, it provided his team with new-found “flexibility.” Playing Vince Magbuhos, Keith Zaldivar, and Cedrick Manzano at the center spot has unlocked a 5-out offensive scheme for the Falcons that gives Lastimosa more space to attack the paint to either score or kick-out to long-range gunners.
A special shout-out is also in order for Jose Sabandal, who recorded 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists and was a +15 in 28 minutes.
The Soaring Falcons forced the Fighting Maroons to play their brand of basketball – fast but cerebral, a staple Racela game plan – which was why Carl Tamayo and Zav Lucero played more minutes than Malick Diouf.
This time, Lucero, UP’s MVP candidate, didn’t have his way.
Adamson could have folded in the face of its recent obstacles, submitting to the reality that their team doesn’t have the high-profile recruits, deep pockets, and booster support other universities they share a league with consistently benefit from. The playing field wasn’t even. It might never be.
Still, they choose to fight. To keep working. To keep striving.
“For me,” Lastimosa said afterwards, “Gustong-gusto ko talaga makabawi sa UP, kasi yun nga, yung nangyari sa first round parang, ano, iyak-iyakin kami palagi, so ngayon parang bumawi talaga kami (I really wanted to avenge our loss to UP because what happened in the first round, we were like crybabies, so now we were able to get even).”
Adamson lost five straight games to UP prior to Thursday’s nail-biter, and each preceding matchup went down to the wire in dramatic fashion:
The Bright Akhuetie game-winner.
The Paul Desiderio step-back three that completed the historic upset.
The Kobe Paras breakout game, leading UP to a comeback win in overtime.
Another Falcons double-digit meltdown in Antipolo.
The post-pandemic fightback that fell short.
Few people can stomach anxiety and post-game disappointment like a die-hard sports fan, but even the most patient Soaring Falcons fan must have let out a few excruciating sighs after each letdown.
In many ways, UP and Adamson have shared a synchronized rise in the UAAP hierarchy for nearly the last decade.
When UP ended a two-year losing streak and won its lone game in 2014, they defeated Adamson, who also won their lone win that year in the second-round matchup against the Maroons.
UP celebrated with a bonfire at the Sunken Garden. Adamson’s head coach at that time, Kenneth Duremdes, joked they would also have a bonfire, but figured burning concrete instead of wood might not work.
In 2015, UP hired alumnus Bo Perasol to end the program’s losing culture while Adamson hired Franz Pumaren, a former champion coach, to bring respectability to the university.
The Falcons made the Final Four first. When the Maroons joined the party in 2018, Adamson was in second place, pegged by analysts to make the Finals against Ateneo. UP had other plans and spoiled the party.
We’re now in 2022 and both schools have new leaders again. Adamson is tutored by Racela, who led FEU to consecutive years of championship contention from 2013-2016 and won a title seven years ago. UP hired Goldwin Monteverde, whose track record of championship success in the high school ranks with NU and, interestingly, Adamson, is what State U hopes he can replicate in the collegiate rank.
Both universities are in good hands. The proof is in the product.
When Lastimosa trooped to the free throw line to secure Adamson’s first win against UP in four years, he was showered with “MVP” chants by a passionate Falcons community at the Mall of Asia arena.
Back then, it was Sean Manganti, the “UP killer.” This time, it’s Lastimosa who’s taken over the mantle.
Minutes later, the young stud who’s quickly turning into the UAAP’s most exciting player was asked about the chorus of the fans.
Racela, a wise veteran, jokingly took his hands and covered each one of Lastimosa’s ears, fully aware of how something that sounds simple and innocent can instantly get in the mind of a young superstar’s head and trigger uncertain results.
Laughing, Lastimosa responded:
“Para sa akin, di naman ako naniniwala sa mga ganyan eh, tsaka na ako maniniwala pag nangyari na talaga (For me, I really don’t believe it, maybe only when it happens).”
The kid’s got his head in the right space.
When Lastimosa danced around James Spencer to unload his dagger, he carried with him the responsibility of being Adamson’s savior.
That shot was no ordinary attempt. It contained years of painful memories, but more importantly, it also had hope for the future.
This time, there would be no heartbreak. – Rappler.com