UNIVERSITY of the Philippines coach Bo Perasol couldn't help but draw similarities between his Fighting Maroons crew which made it to the UAAP Season 81 title series and that Powerade side he took to the 2012 PBA Philippine Cup Finals.
"Parang feeling ko gatecrasher kami kasi walang intention (to be there) in the beginning," he admitted last week in his Hoop Coaches International session hosted by Flying V and Blackwater.
"The intention was to build a program, get enough players to get on with the next seasons."
Both major underdogs, the UP Maroons and Powerade Tigersboth made dream runs to the finals under Perasol. They suffered the same fate, losing in the finale.
Yet their paths couldn't be anymore similar.
Powerade barely claimed the eighth seed with its 6-8 record in the eliminations, but thanks to the blazing hands of Gary David, it upset top-seed the B-Meg Llamados in the quarterfinals, defying twice-to-win disadvantage.
The Tigers, led by eventual Best Player of the Conference David and then-rookies JVee Casio and Marcio Lassiter, outlasted the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in seven tough games in the semis.
But their Cinderella story ended at the hands of Jimmy Alapag, Jayson Castro, and Finals MVP Larry Fonacier who led Talk 'N Text to a 4-1 conquest in the best-of-seven series.
Six years later, Perasol was back at it again, this time leading his alma mater UP to its first Final Four appearance in 21 years.
Buoyed by Paul Desiderio, Juan Gomez de Liano, and Season MVP Bright Akhuetie, the Fighting Maroons found themselves in a three-way tie for third place with Far Eastern University and La Salle with their 8-6 cards but benefitted from having the superior quotient in the three-team tiebreak.
The Fighting Maroons also defied a twice-to-win disadvantage in the semifinals to topple the second-seeded Adamson Soaring Falcons, a team which they were unable to beat during the eliminations.
But it was a different story when the Finals came as Finals MVP Thirdy Ravena, Matt Nieto, and Ange Kouame led top-seed Ateneo to the title.
"The similarity is meron kaming talented players, hungry players who are raring to really win," said Perasol. "But naalala ko yung sinabi ni coach Chot (Reyes) na paramihan ng kabayo ang laban. Sa loob ko, alam niyang mas marami siyang kabayo at that time."
That was the case for the Tropang Texters in 2012 and the same goes for the Blue Eagles in 2018.
Disheartening as those defeats were, Perasol is using those breakthroughs as motivation for his wards to believe that what seems impossible can be done.
"Lagi kong sinasabi sa kanila na we're not in for a sprint but we're in for a marathon. We're looking for that championship, hindi lang Final Four o mapunta sa finals dahil ang gusto namin mapunta is sa championship," he said.
"In the end, we fell short, and as coaches, we knew what went wrong and what we can do right now is to get better."
Perasol also wishes that his current UP side learns from history and won't suffer the same fate as Powerade, noting: "The sad thing on that is in a season or two, na-dismantle na rin yung Coke franchise."
Actually, Perasol has been on another championship series, back in the 2008 PBA Fiesta Conference when he was calling the shots for Air21.
That Express team, which featured Arwind Santos, Ranidel de Ocampo, David, and import Steven Thomas, topped the eliminations but suffered a heartbreaking seven-game finals defeat to Ginebra, led by import Chris Alexander, and locals Mark Caguioa, Eric Menk, and Ronald Tubid.
Twelve years on, Perasol remains without a ring, both in the PBA and in the UAAP, where he also spent three years at Ateneo.
Perasol, though, is confident his time will soon come.
"I was asking myself when is that time going to happen, but the thing that this pandemic gives us is a time to think kung ano yung importante sa buhay mo? Importante na may chance ka manalo, but in case na hindi, the next important thing is to keep on going. Di naman natatapos dyan," he said.
"That's how we make our players understand that we're not going to stop, and I'm a student of that, and we need to pursue our dreams and we need to keep on going."