Rivero patriarch still finds dream ride of 'late-bloomers' Prince, Ricci hard to believe
Prince and Ricci Rivero are bound for their second successive La Salle vs Ateneo finals and the family can't be any happier. 

TO this day, Paolo Rivero still can't believe that his two sons have been to the UAAP Finals once and are bound to play in another in a day's time.

“Sobrang saya naming mag-asawa at mga bata. Feeling namin sobrang blessed kami,” Rivero, 47, told SPIN.ph on Thursday, just two days before sons Paolo and Ricci join the rest of the La Salle Green Archers in a finals rematch against bitter rival Ateneo.

To see a son get a chance to play in a La Salle-Ateneo finale is exhilirating, Paolo said. To have two of them savor Philippine basketball's biggest rivalry is unbelievable.

“Pangalawang championship nila ito na nakapasok plus hindi naman madalas nangyayari na dalawang anak mo, naglalaro sa isang team at pareho sa finals. Kaya sobrang blessed talaga," he said.

"First time nila nagsama sa championship nung La Salle Greenhills, tapos last year, tapos this year. Sobrang proud kami sa na-achieve ng dalawa,” said Paolo.

The Rivero patriarch said Prince and Ricci have truly gone a long way, admitting he didn’t expect their careers to blossom this early considering they both started out late in the sport.

“Si Prince siguro nag-start sa competitive basketball mga 12 years old siya eh. From Isabela, dinala ko siya dito kasi gusto nga niya mag-basketball. After a year, sumama si Ricci kasi gusto rin niya mag-basketball,” said Paolo.

Like his sons, Paolo was once a varsity player but in a different sport. He was a member of the PATTS College of Aeronautics volleyball team that won the Cultural and Athletic Association of Colleges and Universities in the Philippines (Caacup) title in the nineties under now athletic director Benjie Hernandez.

He also once was part of a Philippine selection that took part in the Asean Inter-Schools in Singapore and Hong Kong where he played under coach Sammy Acaylar. Current Philippine Super Liga head Tats Suzara was a former teammate.

Paolo worked at Philippine Airlines at the end of his career and, upon the encouragement of friends, took up a crash course in the US to become a strength and conditioning coach, leading to stints with Acsat, Arellano, National University, Barako Bull, and Phoenix Petroleum.

Having a strength and conditioning coach as a father certainly worked to the advantage of Prince, who, while playing for National University's high school team, did extra work with his dad.

It was at that point where a young Ricci would join his brother during the workouts.

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“Si Ricci, nung bata, nakatutok ako kay Prince. Lahat kasi ng ginagawa ni Prince, ginagawa ni Ricci. Let’s say nag-stairs ng eight floors si Prince sa NU, si Ricci nagii-stairs din ng eight floors. Kung may tinalon si Prince na jump box na certain height, tinatalon din ni Ricci.

“Kaya siguro ngayon, mas athletic si Ricci kasi bata pa lang, parang ‘yung tine-train nung kuya niya, tine-train din ni Ricci. Ganun ‘yung routine na ginagawa niya.”

Paolo, however, said other coaches have also contributed to the brothers' progress.

“Meron din silang strength and conditioning coach like sa La Salle. Sobrang galing niya. Nung nag-start kami sa NU, siguro oo nakatulong ako kasi nage-extra kami after practice. Hindi kami nagse-settle sa two-and-a-half hours na practice nung NU.

"After nun, since nakatira lang kami malapit sa NU noon, nag-spend kami ng another hour sa court. Nagdadagdag kami ng footwork, strengthening sa legs. In a way, oo nakatulong pero ang hirap sabihin (na ako lang) kasi daddy ako,” said Paolo.

Dad is proud to see the hardwork paying off.

Ricci , 19, is a strong contender for a pot in the Mythical Five after averaging 14.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.7 assists. Prince, three years older and the eldest among seven boys, has bounced back from injuries and is posting averages of 6.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.5 assists this season.

“Last year, galing siya (Prince) sa meniscus. Halos buong season, hindi siya nagagamit ni coach Aldin kasi hindi pa siya fully healed... Si Ricci ‘yung confidence niya at ‘yung sinasabi ni coach Aldin na mag-stick lang siya sa system, mas relaxed ngayon si Ricci,” said Paolo.

But father still knows best.

“Ang rineremind ko lang sa kanila, wag sila mag-stop magtrabaho, mag-ensayo, wag mag-settle sa ensayo ng team kasi ‘yung coaches naman, iniisip as a whole. Sila, kailangan nila mag-extra every single day. Rine-remind ko sila na mag-extra, tinatawagan ko sila everyday.

“At parati mag-pray. Dun nanggagaling ang blessings. I think naman na kapag nagtrabaho ka, mabe-bless ka. Ang parati ko reminder, kung ano lang yung tinanim mo, ‘yun ang aanihin mo. Other than that, wala ka makukuha. Kung wala ka tinrabaho, wala kang ilalabas na laro,” said Paolo.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @reubensports