By Aljo Dolores, Nicole Miranda, and Vinz Alcid

It’s the end of a decade! From Season 73 to Season 82, a lot of players have come and gone from the UAAP, players that dominated the court, changed the landscape of the league, fired up their teams or simply captured the hearts of fans. In this All-Decade Team series, we at HumbleBola highlight the athletes and coaches who have defined the 2010’s of UAAP basketball for their respective schools.

The University of the Philippines All Decade Team

C: Bright Akhuetie

Akhuetie’s inclusion in the UP All-Decade Team is a no-brainer. Not only did Bright become the first UP player to be named MVP since 1986, but he had been the Fighting Maroons’ most valuable player ever since his arrival in Season 81. He was a walking double-double machine who not only provided stability offensively and defensively with his inside presence, but also control of the glass with his innate ability to rebound the basketball. 

In his MVP season, Bright averaged a monstrous stat line of 18.9 points per game, 14.6 rebounds per game, 2.8 assists and 1.1 steals. With his clear cut dominance not only statistically, but also in terms of the impact he had on the court, Akhuetie is easily UP’s best foreign student athlete and one of the best foreign student athletes to ever play in the UAAP. 

F: Kobe Paras

For a team that had a scarcity in talent for many, many years, UP suddenly became heavy title contenders during the start of the recently concluded Season 82; and one of the main reasons for their contender status was the arrival of Kobe Paras. While he was not the most polished player in terms of skillset and footwork, Kobe more than made up for it with his raw athleticism and God-given leaping ability—something that has not been seen in the UAAP for a long while. 

As one of the highly touted recruits for the UP Fighting Maroons in Season 82, Kobe Paras came in with a lot of expectation and also doubt on his ability to perform well in the UAAP. After just one season, Kobe has already quelled those doubts and left an immediate impression on the Fighting Maroons. At the end of Season 82, Paras averaged 17.8 points per game and was included in the Mythical team. Although UP was booted out in the Final Four and failed to advance to the Finals, it was clear that Paras was more than capable of taking on the role as Maroons’ go-to guy and on-court leader. 

F: Jett Manuel

Jett Manuel was the candle in the dark that gave light to UP as they walked towards the end of the tunnel. It’s undeniable that Jett Manuel shone the brightest in that rather dark episode of UP Fighting Maroons’ history.

After taking a two-year hiatus in Seasons 76 and 77, Jett immediately took the reigns of UP’s offense upon his return. He averaged 13 points in his two-year run as the King Maroon, converting shots at a rate inconceivable for a UP player at that time. He was undeniably the best player to wear the maroon and green during those darkest of times for UP.

G: Juan Gomez De Liano

For the past decade, Juan Gomez De Liaño was arguably the most skilled player to don the Maroons uniform. On offense, Juan GDL could do it all. He made defenders look silly with his isolation moves, often using crossovers and his exceptional shooting to create his own shot. Juan is also a master of the pick and roll where he utilizes his speed, agility and basketball IQ to either create space for jump shots or driving lanes for contact in the paint. He was also adept at setting up his teammates for wide open shots.

While there is no denying what Juan GDL brought to the table based solely on pure basketball skills, his importance to the UP community is magnified as one of the integral parts of the team’s recent success. Need we remind of his 30-point performance in their do-or-die Final Four matchup against Adamson in Season 81 to lead UP to their first ever Finals trip in 32 years where he drained clutch baskets in the fourth quarter and in overtime. Simply put, Juan GDL not only brought individual basketball greatness for the Fighting Maroons, but also the mentality of a champion. 

G: Paul Desiderio

Four words. One shot. That’s all it took for Paul Desiderio to change the narrative of the UP Fighting Maroons, who went from perennial cellar-dwelling team to a legitimate contender. In his last two seasons, Paul became the face of the revolution in Diliman, one that he started in the first place. From his game-winner against UST in Season 80, Paul led his team to its first Final Four appearance in two decades, then hit a pivotal bucket to carry UP to its first Finals stint in 32 years.

Paul is more than just the clutch baskets he made, though. He defined the Fighting Maroons at a time when they were still searching for their identity. With just four words, he rejuvenated a basketball community that was long left for dead. His words resonated across the university, so much that the battlecry lingered even after he was gone. That feat alone makes him deserving of a spot at the Mount Rushmore of UP basketball.

6th Man: Ibrahim Ouattara

Photo Credit: Rappler

Ibra Outtara was more than just a reliever for Bright Akhuetie, who was serving residency at that time. He became the prototype for UP’s foreign student athletes. In his lone season with the Fighting Maroons, he showed that a great big man in the lineup can do wonders for any team, even for one that’s so used to losing.

Ibra wasn’t the stereotypical FSA that was expected to dominate on both ends of the floor. Instead, he became the consummate team player who knew his role and worked hard to be the best at what he did. He anchored UP inside the paint as he averaged 10.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game in Season 80. He paved the way for Bright to stomp on the year after.

Head Coach: Bo Perasol

For most part of the decade, UP could only dream of knocking on the door and sitting together with the Final Four contenders of the UAAP. It was a dream as far-fetched as it could possibly be, as UP piled up losses year after year. With Bo Perasol, the Fighting Maroons found the direction they needed not only to reach the front door, but to blast it down to enter the Final Four party.

In his four years with the Maroons, Coach Bo led UP to its first season with more than three wins, an even .500 record, a second-seed finish, two Final Four appearances and a Finals stint. In a revolving door of head coaches, Coach Bo stands out as the most successful tactician of the decade for the Fighting Maroons.