UAAP Finals: UP got farther because the seniors went the extra mile

Danine Cruz on Dec 08, 2018 04:16 PM
UP got farther because the seniors went the extra mile
From whipping boys to winners

Doing extra work beyond regular team practices is a common thing all athletes do - extra skills training over here, extra shooting drills over there.

It is always part of the trade.

But for a team with a deep-rooted losing culture like the University of the Philippines had six years ago, extra work was not normal.

At one point, it was even made fun of.

The losing tradition was so deep that going beyond what was required was so foreign to the players. The mindset then was, "You're going to lose anyway, why even try?"

It was something that the rookies then - Diego Dario, Gelo Vito, Jarrell Lim, and Paul Desiderio - had trouble understanding.

"Before, nung rookies kami, since fresh from high school, masipag kami. Kunwari after training, extra work, shooting-shooting. Pero ang problema namin, tinatago na yung bola [after practice]. Ayaw na kami pag shootingin. Hihiritan pa kami ng seniors namin, 'Oh, baka mag-PBA ka na nyan, itigil mo na yan.' Hindi namin yun ma-gets," Lim shared.

"Noon, after ng final huddle, may sisigaw na diyan ng 'Mga bola!!!' So kaming mga bata, wala naman kaming choice, parang ito na, sige na nga," Vito said.

But just like any rookie with big dreams, they pressed on and brushed off the jokes of their seniors. 

"Nung 'dark days,' after training, wala ng tao sa court, kami na lang! Mga rookies - ako, Jarrell, Gelo. Nagsho-shooting kami, extra work kami," chipped in Dario.

In addition to staying after team practices, Dario, Lim, Vito, together with a few older Fighting Maroons created a 6 a.m. workout habit.

From the self-initiated morning sessions to the team practices scheduled from the afternoon to the evening, they made sure that they put some extra work in to better their games and to ultimately transform the losing mentality of their team. It all started with a bunch of rookies who were fed up with the nightmare of losing seasons and were hungry for the dream of contention.

"Pinromise namin sa isa't isa na ito yung culture na papalitan namin sa UP kasi walang nag-eextra work. Bawal mag-extra work," said Vito.

"Even when Coach Bo [Perasol] wasn't here [yet], our batch ni Gelo, Jarrell, all our batchmates made a decision na I think we should change the culture off the court. We should be humble, we haven't reached anything yet, we have to do the work. We made sure even with the younger ones who were coming in, we lead by example," added Dario.

During the time they were rookies, UP was a bottom-feeder in the standings and the butt of jokes of other teams. They barely had any financial support and they trained in faulty facilities, but that did not stop them from trusting the process. 

After one late night extra work session back in 2014, Dario's father, Edwin, said something that was a vision of the future. It was something that Dario and Vito held on to.

"Andun kami sa Old Gym sa labas, may tulo tulo pa yung court," Vito said as he described the lowly state of their only basketball facility then.

"Late night, Team A na kami nun, finally. This was few weeks before my dad passed away. Nung nag-eextra work kami, papa told me, 'Yung batch niyo yung magfa-Finals, yung batch niyo ang magdadala sa team sa championship,'" Dario narrated.

At that point, it was a vision that sounded so preposterous. From 0-14 to the Finals? What a joke.

But for some reason that could only be described by faith, these rookies believed.

As Dario put it, "Sa old UP, hindi mo maririnig yung mga ganung pangarap. Pero kaming batch yung nagsimula nung, 'Oh ano, Final Four?' Pinagtatawanan na kami ng mga tao."

Despite the faith, the laughs never really went away. From Season 76's 0-14, UP's record in the next years improved, but it was still far from Final Four material, let alone the Finals.

UP was still one of the league's whipping boys. They still didn't make it to the Final Four and they were still inconsistent.

So much so that it casted doubts on whether Dario, Vito, Lim, and Desiderio should still play their fifth and final years.

Dario was mulling over sitting out Season 81 just so he can improve his game on his own. Vito, given all the bigger names entering the team, was considering retiring from playing basketball altogether. Lim was so heartbroken from Season 80's finish that he avoided touching a ball for months. Desiderio was thinking of leaving college basketball early to try getting into the PBA.

But they just couldn't let go of the vision they had when they were still rookies - that their batch will reach the Finals, that their batch will change the culture of UP.

Fast forward to Season 81, with the help of new recruits, support from management, and a rabid fanbase, their vision turned into reality.

"After our Game 2 [versus Adamson in the semifinals], na-realize namin before 'UP Naming Mahal,' ito na yun! Ito na yung sinasabi ni papa! Magfa-Finals na tayo! It's true!" Dario narrated.

"May nagtanong sa akin after the semifinals, 'Fifth year ka na, hindi ba parang masakit sayo na you're not playing in those kinds of moments na crucial?' Sabi ko sa kanya, I would never exchange this moment na pumasok kami sa Finals after 32 years for playing time. It's not about yung moment lang na yun eh. Yung process na pinagdaanan namin, para marating yun, naghirap kami nun, it was part of it," Vito added.

'Trust the process' may be one of the most overused phrases of athletes nowadays, but graduating seniors Desiderio, Vito, Lim, and Dario proved that they are the ones who truly know what it means.

From being shamed for doing extra work, now, they are proudly wearing a silver medal around their necks.

Coming from 0-14, who would have thought and believed? They did.

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Follow this writer on Twitter, @the9cruz

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