New King Maroon Paul Desiderio takes charge
MANILA, Philippines - It was a game in control, until they lost it in the end.
For players and fans of the University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons, it was a situation they were very much familiar with. Since their cellar-dwelling days from as recent as two years ago, the Fighting Maroons ironically forget to fight in their games’ closing moments when they need it the most. A second-half collapse for UP was as predictable as the Ateneo Blue Eagles going to the Final Four.
In their very first Season 80 game against familiar foe University of Santo Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers, UP controlled the first half, 42-33, thanks to evenly distributed scoring and clamping defense on the Tigers’ new man in the middle, Steve Akomo.
Second half rolled by and the same weakness that has plagued the Maroons for years once again began to show, letting Akomo dunk twice and the rest of the Tigers to claw all the way back to a tie game after the third period, 57-all.
Tooth-and-nail, the Tigers and Maroons fought until the final minute. Then Maroon big Gelo Vito fouled UST captain Marvin Lee with 5 seconds remaining, allowing the Tigers to seize the lead off his 2 made charities.
Then it was UP’s turn to use their captain. With one last chance to tie or steal the game, Paul Desiderio pulled up for his 11th three attempt of the night after only previously making one.
“Cash money!” bellowed the UAAP commentator as his trey sank, making the UP fans explode from their seats in celebration of the 74-73 win. Memories from years of futility momentarily washed off as for only the second time in 12 years, as UST’s Varsitarian hastily reminded after the game, the Maroons put the Tigers to sleep.
Everyone was surprised to say the least, but apparently, Desiderio wasn’t.
“Hindi ko alam how he [did] that, but during the timeout, he called it,” said UP head coach Bo Perasol after the game.
“Sabi niya ‘Papasok ito! Coach, mananalo tayo, papasok ito,’” he added. (“He said, ‘This will go in! Coach, we will win. This will go in.’”)
“Siyempre ang dami ko nang tinira, no? Mahihiya pa ba ako eh last shot na?,” joked the Maroon captain in the post-game interview. (“Of course, I already took a lot of shots, right? Would I still be shy for the last shot?”)
One cannot write a better story for Desiderio’s debut as the King Maroon. It was leadership takeover everyone already saw coming even as far back as two years ago. Whether after a win or a loss, it was Desiderio who never strayed far off the top of the stat sheets and always gave his all on the court. Especially last season, with then-captain Jett Manuel set to graduate, Desiderio displayed his full arsenal as he led the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals. Manuel still had the crown on but it was very clear who was next in line.
The season is very young but UP fans can rest easy at night, knowing that with Desiderio leading the up-and-coming Maroons, the Fighting Maroons have a fighting chance. There’s a new sheriff in town, and everyone is a wanted man. – Rappler.com