Book chronicles rise of UP Fighting Maroons | Inquirer Sports

Book chronicles rise of UP Fighting Maroons

/ 02:22 AM December 23, 2019

MANILA, Philippines — A page in Naveen Ganglani’s new book captures the UP Fighting Maroons in one of its rawest points. Renan Dalisay, then just a curious benefactor to the premiere university’s basketball team, had asked the players: “Why aren’t you winning? What do you need to win?”

To his utter shock, the players said: “More food.”

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Nobody wanted to sponsor a losing team, and a losing team cannot hope to win without food.

Then the tides turned: Dalisay formed the NowheretoGoButUP Foundation in 2014 to kickstart alumni funding for the team.

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That same year, the Maroons broke its 27-game losing streak against the Adamson Falcons, 77-64.

Former Ateneo coach Bo Perasol came onboard, and a fresh batch of new and powerful recruits — Bright Akhuetie, Juan Gomez de Llano, Ricci Rivero and Kobe Paras — came aboard what everyone thought was a sinking ship.

“It was like a sleeping giant had finally awakened,” Ganglani wrote, describing the crowd’s roaring elation when the Maroons entered the Final Four for the first time in 2017. “I knew that if my dream to write a book ever came true, this had to be the story to tell.”

True enough, his first book, “Nowhere to Go But UP: How A Basketball Team Inspired A Nation,” chronicles the Maroons’ astronomical rise from cellar-dwellers into a powerful team that rekindled UP’s championship dreams.

It was a yearlong endeavor in partnership with the Foundation, propped up by the Maroons’ own accounts of their challenges and dreams.

It’s difficult to keep a team afloat even in a basketball-crazy country like the Philippines, where athletes perennially face problems in support.

And it’s twice as hard for the University of the Philippines’ own teams, Ganglani said, because the issues become doubly complicated.

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For example: Even if the state university did manage to channel money for the teams, it’s bogged down by the bureaucratic mire of procurement and state auditing.

“Once money is turned over to the university, it becomes the Philippine government’s money,” he wrote. “Spending it necessitated proper liquidation, and that was only after the money was audited and administrative and legal fees were deducted.”

Years of being shut out from the UAAP also led to a “self-sabotaging” pattern for the Maroons, Ganglani noted.

“They themselves did not believe they were on the same level as the other schools in the league,” he said. “It was difficult to blame them when their opponents bonded with each other during the long rides to the Big Dome or MOA Arena in their airconditioned buses. The Maroons had to squeeze inside jeepneys or ride separately.”

But what was common to all the athletes, he said, was their fierce love for UP, even when it was difficult to root for themselves.

A crucial touchpoint to the Maroons’ comeback narrative was Paul Desiderio, who was captain when UP scored its first victory after two winless seasons. He was the player who told Dalisay they needed more food to win. And his “Atin ‘To” mantra was the crucible in which UP forged anew its championship dreams.

“One thing I noticed was that these people [always] talked about how the people they are today were molded by UP, and this was their way of giving back to the university,” Ganglani said during his toast at his book launch last Dec. 9. “They all had a mission to give back to the university, and because of that, they became part of history forever.”

Were there fears that the Fighting Maroons’ story was one that resonated only in Diliman?

“No,” Dalisay said. “Because this is UP, and this is a state university, there is a feeling among common people that they are part of this win. But more than that, it’s really a story of starting from the bottom and being able to rise despite these challenges… It’s a story that a lot of Filipinos know well.”

Where do the Fighting Maroons go from here?

“Now we’re focusing on the chemistry,” Dalisay said. “Now that we have Ricci, Kobe and Juan, that’s our biggest challenge.”

More importantly, he said, they wanted to put money where their mouths are. “If the drive before was really puso (heart), struggling to overcome the odds, this year their heart must be in winning the championship,” Dalisay said.

“If they can,” he adds after a beat, “to give honor and respect to those who came ahead of them.”

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