Ex-UP top gunner Paolo Mendoza to Fighting Maroons: Focus on goal, not yourselves
Pamela Adriano on Nov 28, 2018 01:12 PM
Former UP Fighting Maroon and current UPIS head coach Paolo Mendoza was part of the last UP squad to reach the UAAP Final Four in 1997 (Photo courtesy of Shutter Drop).
After 21 years, the UP Fighting Maroons are on the cusp of entering the UAAP Finals as they battle against the Adamson Soaring Falcons for the right to face the defending champion Ateneo Blue Eagles for the Season 81 title.
A familiar situation
1997 was the last time UP made it to the Final Four, also forging a sudden death match for a spot in the Finals in Season 60. One of the top players back then was scoring sensation Paolo Mendoza, who is now the head coach of the UPIS Junior Fighting Maroons. Unfortunately, however, Mendoza's team lost by just a point, 69-70, during the Game 2 of the knockout match against the FEU Tamaraws, denying their march to the Finals.
Being the top scorer and team leader of the Fighting Maroons at that time, Mendoza is elated to see the current team in the same position they had in 1997.
In an exclusive interview, Mendoza said he is elated that UP finally made it again this far in the league, considering also that Juan and Javi Gomez de Liano, Diego Dario, and Wil Gozum were former UPIS Junior Fighting Maroons.
Mendoza stressed that offense has always been and will always be there as the roster has top gunners like the Gomez De Liano brothers, Paul Desiderio, Jun Manzo, and MVP favorite Bright Akhuetie.
However, he believes the team’s defensive intensity was the most obvious improvement compared to their performance during the first round of playoffs.
“Magaling ‘yung attention and commitment nila sa defense. Ang galing ng ginawa ni Coach Bo (Perasol),” he said, adding that the boys definitely executed even the smallest of details in their defense.
Being optimistic for today’s game, Mendoza thinks that the main concern or probable weakness of the team will be nothing and no one but themselves.
“Sometimes in situations like this, you will be overwhelmed. Your focus on the game will really be tested,” he said, adding that focus is just what might probably get in the way in getting the win in today’s match.
Similarities with 1997 team
Meanwhile, the major similarity that Mendoza thinks there is between their team during Season 60 and the current Fighting Maroons is the commitment of the players.
“‘Yung similarity na talagang nakikita ko is ‘yung commitment ng parehong generations. During our time, very committed kami sa goal namin, the same way how the team is committed now,” he said.
Reminiscing the exact situation they were in during Season 60, Mendoza is certain that they were still successful during their time despite falling short against the FEU Tamaraws, who were then the number one team in the standings and had the that twice-to-beat edge.
“Ang maganda siguro sa team namin noon, we know our roles and we accept those roles. We respect each other a lot. Kaya masasabi naming naging matagumpay noong time namin,” he said.
Like an ordinary game
The old cliche that is “playing one game at a time” was the mindset of Mendoza during that do-or-die game against FEU. Mendoza admitted that he actually just treated that game as an ordinary game as he did not want to pressure himself so much.
“During times like this, medyo iseseparate mo muna ‘yung sarili mo sa mundo kasi everybody’s talking about the game - your friends, family, and the whole UP community,” he said.
Difficulties will always be present during crucial knockout games and Mendoza admitted it was really the focus on the game, which was very hard for them back then.
“Sometimes, you tend to focus on yourself eh; nakakalimutan mo na yung goal ng team that is why importante ‘yung may leaders who know how to gather the team,” he said, adding that when you are already one of the top teams you always have to bring your “A" game” every time.
Knowing how to handle pressure
In sharing his learnings from his experience as a veteran player, Mendoza stressed that each one on the team now should know how to handle the pressure and expectations.
“They should not take their eyes off the goal. Dapat alam nila ‘yung kailangan nilang gawin. Most importantly, they should think of everybody, the whole UP community sacrificing their time to support the team,” he said.
Mendoza also pointed out that the performance of GDL brothers Juan and Javi is very crucial. “I think sila ang barometer ng UP. If they play well, strong ang chance ng UP to win,” he said.
When asked what the Finals picture is for UP, Mendoza confidently said that his hopes are high for the very talented team. With the way the boys play, there is a very high chance that they will make it into Finals. They just need to maintain it and keep it a notch higher on defense. “Hindi talaga ako magugulat kung manalo ang UP. If it happens, first Finals appearance ulit ng UP in years,” he said.