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Why greatness never ends in the UAAP

MANILA, Philippines — In one tale, we have a Cinderella team finding its bearings at the right time and winning the elusive UAAP title. On the other, we have a Cinderella team that squandered its chances and, consequently, was left with a slew of could-have-beens for the second year in a row.

Mariano deserves better

In an interview a couple of days prior to Game 3, coach Pido was quoted as saying, "Hindi naman nag-disappear si Aljon. Andyan lang yan, hintayin lang natin. Malay mo baka pumutok na sa Sabado."

Mariano shot 0/8 from the field, though he did haul down 10 rebounds, and he made 3/4 FTs, including the two that forced overtime.

The San Beda high school alum has been on the receiving end of a lot of nasty comments after the game, and though he did commit some critical miscues, I feel he has gotten a really bad deal. Without Mariano, UST wouldn't even make the Final Four, let alone the Finals. He deserves better than this.

But people have a tendency to react in strange ways when overcome with disappointment. To Aljon, be patient and remember -- this, too, shall pass. (It might take a little longer than usual, though, since tweets and memes tend to last, you know, forever.) Someday, you shall complete your own Cinderella story, and when that happens, you will be the one looking down on your haters.

Awesome ride, awesome ending

Of course, the ones currently under the bright lights of triumph are the Green Archers, who last won the UAAP crown in 2007 with the likes of JV Casio and Rico Maierhofer leading the way. By all indications, this was an awesome ride for DLSU and its fans. They lost Gee Abanilla to the PBA before the season and had rookie coach Juno Sauler at the helm. They lost four first round games and nearly lost their second round opener to Adamson. They lost Game 1 of the Finals and were down 15 in the second half in this one.

But they battened down the hatches, pissed at the wind, took the bull by the horns, flashed the finger at all the doubters, and what have you. They got the job done.

Not surprisingly, true to his stoic-as-a-stone form, coach Juno remained devoid of emotion even as the cheers rained from on high.

"Like what I’ve been saying, it’s not about winning the ballgame, it’s about improving day-by-day,” said the first-time UAAP Men's champion coach. "I told them to start the game, (that) it will boil down to every possession. Knowing there’s still time, we have to slug it out."

Game 3 did boil down to a per-possession slugfest, and, lo and behold, the Archers were the tougher unit when the dust settled.

Photo by Rappler/Josh Albelda.

Dynasty in the making?

This early, some observers have already been whispering about a dynasty-in-the-making, and, frankly speaking, with Jeron Teng still in tow, as well as the impending debut of Ben Mbala in the not-so-distant future, those whispers might be bound to turn into reality.

And, amidst it all, somewhere in the middle of the yelling and cheering, stood the two men who've been the faces of these Finals for two weeks now.

We all knew, even before the opening whistle of Game 1 was blown, that one Teng brother would yield as the other rose. We all knew one would end up in tears and one would end up with the title.

Photo by Rappler/Josh Albelda.

But did we really expect Jeron, the champion, to be the one crying as he embraced his kuya Jeric, who, despite falling short of the championship again, was smiling?

"On one side, I’m happy because we’re champions," opines the younger Teng. "But on the other side, ‘yung brother ko, I feel his loss."

As a sincere reflection of the bond between these brothers, Jeron adds the following touching line, "For me, he (kuya Jeric) is deserving to be the finals MVP."

In reply, Jeric tweeted the following shortly after the game, "Congrats to DLSU. They played really well. And congrats to Jeron for getting the Finals MVP. You deserve it. #proudbrother."

And that really encapsulates everything, doesn't it?

This game, despite being played under blinding lights and in front of loud crowds, is not really about the winners or the losers. It's about the people -- players, coaches, students, fans, brothers -- who wage war and give their all. Like Mariano, sometimes they falter. Like Vosotros, sometimes they are victorious. Some are emotional like coach Pido, or seemingly dispassionate like coach Juno. Sometimes, the Cinderella story goes up in smoke at the stroke of midnight, but sometimes it endures until the happily-ever-after.

As what this game and the Tengs showed, however, in all of these characters and moments there is greatness, and that is why it never ends. -