Paul Desiderio: the King Fighting Maroon

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THE UP Fighting Maroons entered the UAAP Season 81 Finals as underdogs against the two-time defending champions, the Ateneo Blue Eagles, in a best-of-three series. Game 1 last Saturday was a good one but championship experience gave the men in blue the win.

As you read this piece, either Ateneo swept UP for the title or the Maroons had lived to fight for a deciding game. Including their win last Saturday, the Blue Eagles have a 28-3 win-loss record in their head-to-head matchup with UP in a span of 15 years.

I started following the UAAP, particularly UP, because of Paul Desiderio. Not only was his father a childhood friend, I was one of their ninongs when Christine hypnotized and cast a spell on Abner to do a “for better or for worse” promise. Since then and maybe up to now, Abner’s eyes don’t stray away from her and their daughter Ina. Dios ko Dai. I’m “Papa” to Christine, and Abner being Abner, we’re on a pet name basis.

Polgang, he is called by people close to him. From a shy, skinny kid tagging along to his father’s summer league games with a small basketball in hand, Paul learned the basics of the game from the basketball clinics held every summer by Edsel Vallena and former pro Teroy Albarillo.

There were the numerous often barefoot pustahan games starting at P10 per player, sometimes for a liter or two of soft drinks on the sandlot courts and barangay courts around town. As his game progressed, it eventually brought Paul to the University of the Visayas and in between the CESAFI season, Cebu’s premier school league, he represented his hometown Liloan in congressional and provincial government sponsored tournaments. Those were the times when there was actually a cup for ball sports. What we have now is just a cough. Ubo-ubo.

Through his tenure with the UV high school varsity team, he became one of the pillars of the Baby Lancers together with current UP teammate Jun Manzo and DLSU’s Santi Santillan. I watched their title games together with my family against perennial opponents Ateneo de Cebu Magis Eagles that had current UP teammate Janjan Jaboneta and former Adamson player Dawn Ochea. Yup, I watched the kid grow and develop into what he is now.

I was not privy to his college recruitment but sometimes Abner would tell me that he often get calls from NCAA and UAAP schools inquiring about Paul’s availability. Some coaches visited Cebu for a talk with the father and son. Long story short, UP was it.

I was never an Isko but have cousins and close acquaintances who studied at UP, and you may consider me a Maroon bandwagoner because when Paul graduates this April, I’m not so sure if I would be following the UAAP and UP as much as I did since the gloomy 0-14 season of 2013.

For the record, Paul was CESAFI Juniors MVP in 2011 when they faced off with Ateneo for the high school championships. Fate could smile on him seven years later. Facing again the Eagles for the title – this time for the collegiate crown – he has a formidable adversary in the person of the slam dunking Thirdy Ravena for the Finals’ best player, but if Desiderio will just be Desiderio in their last two games, I won’t be surprised if he becomes the Finals MVP and bring back the glory of 1986. The UP community just can’t wait for another 32 years.

Polgang will be leaving UP maybe for the greener pastures of the PBA but with his hustle, clutch plays and confidence, the humble and simple probinsyano (not Cardo) has cemented his legacy as Mr. Atin ’To, the King Maroon. Up, up and away, UP!/PN

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