Words by JP Famorcan
History-makers UP Fighting Maroons graced their supporters in the UPLB campus for a victory party and bonfire following a monumental victory in the UAAP Season 84 Men’s Basketball tournament that saw the crown’s return to the state university after 36 years of drought.
Officials, alumni, and sponsors from Los Baños gathered at the Baker Hall to witness the arrival of the Maroons, who survived a grueling three-match Finals run to emerge as the top squad in the tournament.
“Tulad ng UP Fighting Maroons, tayo ay nakibaka, [at] nagpursigi lalo na ngayon sa panahon ng pandemya. Nakakatuwang isipin na sa panahon na tayo ay nakalugmok sa pandemya, nagdala ng isang malaking kasiyahan ang UP Fighting Maroons,” UPLB Chancellor Jose Camacho Jr. said in his welcome remarks.
[“Like the UP Fighting Maroons, we fought and strived hard especially now amidst the pandemic. It is gratifying to think that at a time where we are facing a pandemic, the UP Fighting Maroons brought immense joy.”]
Legendary center Benjie Paras and current College of Economics and Management (CEM) Professor Primo Rodriguez also turned up to meet the new King Maroons. The honorary predecessors of the current champions, these two men were pieces of the last UP squad to rule UAAP basketball back in 1986.
At the backdrop of politics
Paras’ and Rodriguez’ championship coincides with the year the Marcoses were thrown out of power after a successful staging of the People Power Revolution in EDSA. In contrast, UP’s championship in 2022 saw another Marcos rise into power, with Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. winning the presidency as per the unofficial tally of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC).
“Lagi ko lang sinasabi na when we won during 1986, the Marcoses left the country; ngayon naman after 36 years na nagchampion UP, bumalik sila. Coincidence,” Paras stated in an exclusive interview with the Perspective, when asked of the political relevance of the team’s championship.
[“I always say that when we won in 1986, the Marcoses left the country; after 36 years, UP won the championship and the Marcoses returned. Coincidence.”]
In relation to this, last May 10, as multiple sectors staged protests to condemn the fraudulent elections, UP student athletes were reportedly halted by police while they were on their way back to the campus.
In a report by UP College of Mass Communication official student publication Tinig ng Plaridel, they wrote that the vehicle of UP Pep Squad Drummers was stopped by police in riot gear, who asked if they were carrying rallyists. A similar incident occurred on the same day when another varsity team was reportedly blocked by police forces.
(RELATED STORY: Southern Tagalog progressives protest vs electoral fraud)
In separate statements, UP President’s Advisory Council (PAC) and UPLB Chancellor Camacho assured the protection of constituents’ democratic rights amid red-tagging and harassment (READ: Chancellor Camacho, UP PAC assure protection of constituents’ democratic rights amid red-tagging, harassment).
Meanwhile, amid the political situation of the country, UP cager Bismarck Lina described their championship as a “bittersweet moment”.
“For me, it’s a bittersweet moment kasi a Marcos won again and he’s now the presumptive president,” Lina quoted.
A historic reign for the King Maroons
The Fighting Maroons bested heavy favorites Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles, who were gunning for their fifth straight trophy since 2017, in the extended Finals series capped off by a slim 72-69 overtime win in the Game 3 to give UP their third title in history, and first since 1986.
Center Malick Diouf led the Maroons throughout the three championship matchups with averages of 11.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.7 steals, 2.0 assists, and 1.0 block. Diouf was eventually hailed as the Finals MVP.
Big men Carl Tamayo and Zavier Lucero, both part of the season’s Mythical Five, also provided much-needed support in the paint for Diouf. The team’s guards also showed up during crunch time as CJ Cansino connected from beyond the arc to tie the do-or-die duel at 59-all by the end of regulation, while JD Cagulangan sank the clutch triple in the end of Game 3 that handed UP the crown.
Maroons guard Christian Calimag shared how UP lowered their expectations of winning the championship this season given how other teams were also eager to win the title, all while having to deal with hardships especially with the new format of the tournament, given the restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“May mga expectations kami pero along the way, inexpect namin na magiging mahirap because of the other team, syempre gusto nila mag-compete, gusto rin nila manalo,” Calimag said.
[“We had expectations but along the way, we expected that it will be difficult because of the other team since they really want to compete, they also want to win.”]
“This season’s different. Every other day ‘yung games so every other day we have to adjust, walang time magpahinga, malayo pa kami sa families plus nasa bubble pa,” Calimag added.
[“The games are scheduled every other day so we have to adjust every other day, we have no time to rest, and we are far from our families plus we are in the bubble.”]
After they successfully seized the victory, Calimag expressed how satisfied the entire crew felt knowing that the entire UP community has been waiting for the return of the Maroons as UAAP’s top basketball squad.
“For us, it’s very fulfilling na ma-end namin yung drought. I know buong UP community nasa likod namin to support us, and matagal na namin hinintay ang victory na ‘to and buti nakuha namin this year,” Calimag shared.
[“For us, it’s very fulfilling to end the drought. I know the whole UP community are with us to support us, and we have been waiting a long time for this victory and it’s fortunate to win it this year.”] [P]