IT wasn’t long ago when the UP Fighting Maroons suffered another winless season in the UAAP after bowing against the UE Red Warriors for their last game of Season 76.
As they suffered their third winless season in seven years, it got so bad that a parody Twitter account was made to ask rhetorically if the prestigious institution was able to eke out a win in every game ever since.
— Did UP win today? (@didUPwintoday) July 12, 2014
While the university holds an impressive academic track record as the top university in the country, the Fighting Maroons have been in the midst of an excruciating process in laying the foundation for their basketball program — much to the dismay of their ever loyal fans.
“For the longest time, it’s like we just accepted na malabong mananalo kami,” longtime UP MBT fan Natasha Tabucal admitted.
With losing season after losing season, it’s a bit understandable if most would give up on cheering the Fighting Maroons. However, for the UP faithful, giving up on these hardworking players would be tantamount to doing a disservice to the prestigious institution.
“It was hard because it was heartbreaking to see them lose. I almost gave up supporting them because I felt that it was not worth it because they can’t get a win. But the school spirit and the belief with the players pushed me to stay and support them despite being winless,” added JP Bernardo, also a UP MBT fan and volunteer.
A huge part of staying competitive in the UAAP is through their scouting and recruitment as the coaching staff would invest majority of their time and resources to scour all around the country, and even in foreign countries just to find the right players for their team.
But unlike the big programs, UP does not offer lucrative benefits for their student-athletes. Instead of being offered a vast amount of money or guaranteed housing, with a car as a deal sweetener at times, the Diliman-based community would only have to offer their loyalty and support for the squad.
“Some players actually got tempted to offers from other schools, not just financially. Seeing how other schools support their players, the UP MBT players somehow felt a bit sad about how meager the benefits they received were, but they never gave up. But even everything was hard for them, they chose to stay, and that made me admire them the most,” added Bernardo.
The Fighting Maroons were adamant on repaying their fans’ trust, as they always valiantly played their hardest every time they stepped on the hardwood. Through their blood, sweat, and tears, all the players wanted was to make their school proud, even if they don’t get much in return, especially after games.
“It was normal for any basketball team in the UAAP to have recovery meals as most would have them catered. When we started the boys had none, lucky na ang bottled water and mints,” said Atty. Patricia Galang, a key member of the #NowhereToGoButUP Foundation.
“There was even an instance that one senior passed on his shoes to a junior player – and it trended online. Those kind of awakened the alumni in me. These players chose education, chose to play for UP – over bigger allowances, benefits, ” added Rommel Copuyoc from the #NowhereToGoButUP Foundation.
Upon hearing stories like these, a group of fans and alumni decided to gather and form a foundation that would alleviate the plight of these hardworking student-athletes, which is the #NowhereToGoButUP Foundation. More than anything, the said foundation was a microcosm of the whole university that aimed to provide any kind of support for their players.
As the UP faithful kept on rooting for the basketball program to grow, they are now about to reap rewards from their loyalty, thanks to some of the key moves made by the team management — and with some luck as well.
Ibrahim Ouattara’s one-and-done season paved a way for the team’s recruitment as it set the precedent to enlist the likes of Nigerian slotman Bright Akhuetie, and eventually former DLSU swingman Ricci Rivero and Gilas cadet Kobe Paras. However, with expectations now higher than ever, what will always remain constant is the undying love affair between the community and the players.
“I admit that it all started with the school spirit, but after I met and knew each one of the players, I learned to love them more off the court because of their love for the school, their determiation and their vulnerabilities. And I’m sure I am here to stay, always behind them, supporting and cheering them all out until we reach the championship,” added Bernardo.
(Photo credit: Tinig ng Plaridel’s Facebook page)