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Something to prove

Rookie riding on college momentum, refueled Phoenix hope to make their mark this season
/ 05:05 AM January 16, 2019

For someone picked fourth in a draft that was supposedly lacking in depth, Paul Desiderio will have some of the spotlight trained on him.

Most of it will be residue sheen from his stint with University of the Philippines in the UAAP, where he capped a career that took on folk hero proportions by leading the Maroons to their first Finals stint in decades.

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But he doesn’t feel the pressure, just the challenge.

“At this point, all I really want to gain is the experience,” Desiderio told the Inquirer during the recent PBA media day.

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He knows he has to find his niche in Blackwater coach Bong Ramos’ system, a search that should be easier after the Elite dealt away Paul Zamar.

Desiderio fits the Zamar profile. He is a gutsy playmaker who isn’t afraid to take shots. Even when he isn’t making them, he has enough self-faith to call game winners.

Now if he can only earn the minutes to prove he can knock down big-time shots in the pros.

“I spoke with coach Bong and he told me I will get my chance to prove myself,” Desiderio said in Filipino.

He promises he hasn’t lost an ounce of the confidence and swagger that endeared him to a school that finally crawled out of collegiate basketball’s underbelly.

“I’m going to be the same player,” said Desiderio. “What Blackwater is going through is the same as what UP went through when I was there. So I’m going to do my best to do with Blackwater what I helped achieve in UP.”

Blackwater will unveil Desiderio at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Smart Araneta Coliseum, where the Elite make their Philippine Cup debut against NorthPort.

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In the second game, Phoenix battles Meralco as the Fuel Masters hope to finally break through this season.

However, coach Louie Alas isn’t ready to measure his squad against the top teams of the league just yet.

Right now, he wants to look at the squads his team is realistically competitive against.

“We must be able to beat teams we are supposed to beat,” Alas said in Filipino during the PBA’s recent media day.

“That’s where we will start.”

Phoenix goes into a second season with Calvin Abueva now fully absorbed into its system and with additions Alex Mallari and Dave Marcelo, Alas feels he has the pieces to finally take it to the big guns of the league.

“We’re deeper now,” Alas said. “So I guess this season, we can really compete.”

Alas, however, is grounding himself in reality—at least for now.

“San Miguel, Ginebra, Purefoods and Alaska, those are real elite teams. We will try to compete as hard as we can against them,” said Alas. “But right now, the test will be to beat the teams that are in the same level as we are in. I’m not saying we’re better than the rest of the field. But we should be able to win the games we have to win against them.”

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