The UP Fighting Maroons weren’t shy with their aspirations this season. After making it to the Finals last season, they spent the offseason towards one goal in mind: the UAAP championship. They never said championship or bust, but the feeling around Diliman spoke volumes. Expectations were heightened, not just among the fanbase, but also within the team. There was nothing wrong with having dreams such as this. In fact, it is part of the natural progression in this field we call sport.
Sports, whether it be basketball, volleyball, or swimming, are naturally competitive. That means teams or individuals are made to chase one particular prize. The tools one gets in order to get this prize shapes whatever goals these sporting figures will have.
Last season, the goal for the Fighting Maroons was to simply make it to the Final Four. It’s been their goal ever since 1998 and last year they achieved that goal and so much more. They won two games in the Final Four. They made it to the Finals, an achievement that only felt like a dream last season. Achieving that told the UP community: wow, so it CAN be done!
UP had already achieved the goal they set out on for the last 20 years. But at the end of the day, that’s all it was; a mere goal achieved that isn’t the actual prize basketball players play for. With the experience of Season 81 and the addition of Ricci Rivero and Kobe Paras, it only made sense for the stakes to be heightened. The expectations were at an all-time high for the Fighting Maroons.
Expectations. It’s a word that’s often met with plenty of criticism whenever its thrown out. It is often described as unreasonable or even disrespectful when predictions are published to the public. But one has to understand: these predictions aren’t simply done out of spite or for the sake of clicks. Expectations are done because that is what people — whether it be writers or your typical Twitter warrior — believe that sporting figure is capable of. For the sake of these Fighting Maroons, the belief was that they could at least make it back to the Finals again. A championship even made sense. It wasn’t disrespect. In fact, it was respect for what the public believed UP could achieve.
But here’s the thing with expectations that is both unifying and paradoxical: it isn’t always true, but it can also be exceeded or not met. It’s like hiring a job candidate based off ones resume. The resume doesn’t always tell the complete story. There is always the possibility of that candidate failing to reach the target a company has, or to even go beyond what is expected. It’s the beauty of humanity really. We are all ideally given the chance to break through what we are tagged with.
As Season 82 rolled on, UP picked up win after win after win. Yet somehow, despite the Ws that were increasing in their record, fans did not seem satisfied with how they won games. Was it disrespect? Was it hate? While others may believe so, I don’t think that was the case. It goes back to that word: expectations. Their performance wasn’t matching what people believed they could be. Could you truly say that a team who won ALL of their games by single digits can rightfully be called a championship contender?
But truth be told, it’s not even about the writers, the Twitter warriors, or even the haters. It’s about the team. They said they wanted to raise up that trophy by the end of Season 82. Was barely getting wins cutting it? Was it indicative of what this group was capable of? They never explicitly answered this, but we may have been given somewhat of an answer after Game 1 of their semifinal series against the UST Growling Tigers.
The mood was somber. The normally enthusiastic Maroons had blank looks as they walked out of the Smart Araneta Coliseum. Even Javi Gomez de Liano, who is one of the most sociable people on this planet, could not smile. It was easy to understand why they felt that way. They had just lost 89-69, a beatdown given to them by the UST Growling Tigers.
Javi talked, despite the clear disappointment in his face. “Coming into next game, our mentality is really like, to kill. To destroy,” said Javi. “If we don’t have that mentality, there’s a big chance that the result might be the same. We just really have to change a lot of things.”
He never said anything explicitly. But his mood, a face that was clearly filled with anger and a tone that wanted to bounce back, spoke thousands. They needed to change things up. He wanted to win. That meant, he truly believed that his team was capable of so much more. He had faith in this group, but they needed to practice that faith to truly show what they were capable of.
It was never supposed to be about the writers, the haters, or the Twitter warriors. It was always supposed to be about themselves. As a team, they had dreams. They wanted to win the UAAP championship. But they couldn’t achieve that dream without beating the UST Growling Tigers.
It felt like the game was over the moment UST jumped off to an 18-6 run during the first quarter. But with the flip of a switch, the UP Fighting Maroons suddenly woke up and made a run against the Growling Tigers. It all started on defense, as they locked in on that end of the floor and allowed their offense to gain momentum off of their stops. With every turnover forced and every halfcourt set executed, the Fighting Maroons crept closer and closer to the lead.
Then past the halfway point of the fourth quarter, with a Juan Gomez de Liano mid-range jumper, they finally got it. 59-57. The comeback was close to completion.
From that point on, UP and UST started to trade baskets. After Kobe Paras made a dunk off a pass to the backdoor by Javi Gomez de Liano, the score read 65-61. It felt like a dagger. That play, two star players connecting to create a beautiful highlight that mattered, looked like a culmination of what was expected out of the Fighting Maroons in the first place. A team filled with individuals coming together to create unified destruction.
But too little, too late. One moment couldn’t counter the storm UST created the next minute. It went by quickly. A Rhenz Abando fastbreak layup started it. Then after receiving a pass from the baseline, Renzo Subido isolated on Bright Akhuetie and pulled up for the biggest shot of the season.
UP still had a chance to counter back, but unfortunate moments for them piled up. A pass from Juan GDL was fumbled by Kobe. A putback attempt by Javi GDL missed. Even after freethrows from Soulemane Chabi Yo, the door was still open for UP. But after a miss by James Spencer from three, all chances vanished. UST was making it to the Finals. The season was over for the UP Fighting Maroons.
In an instant, tears started to be shed among the Fighting Maroons. Those tears showed us the painful reality of sports. All of us want the prize, but only one can emerge as the winner. Only one MVP. Only one Rookie of the Year. Only one champion. Sadly UP could not attain their ultimate goal for the season.
Those tears represented their sadness. Not just because they lost, but because they weren’t able to achieve the goal THEY wanted for themselves. It was never about the writers, the haters, nor the Twitter warriors. It was always about the UP Fighting Maroons themselves and the expectations they had as a group. They expected a championship and they failed. Disappointment is only natural.
It may be a painful reality, but it is not the end. That’s where the beauty of basketball comes. The beauty of humanity, really. Even when we fail, there is always an opportunity to bounce back and chase one’s goals again. It can be by going pro. Or maybe even transferring schools. Of course, there’s always next season to recover and chase that elusive UAAP championship again.
But that opportunity won’t come from the writers, the haters, nor the Twitter warriors. It has to start in the Fighting Maroons themselves and how they can give themselves a chance to recover so they can rise from their pain.
Fall down seven times, stand up eight.
Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place.