UNIVERSITY of the Philippines is hands down this collegiate basketball season's feel good story, reaching the Finals this UAAP Season 81 for the first time since 1986.
But come Season 82, the Fighting Maroons are already marked men, all the more with the entry of highly touted recruits Kobe Paras and Ricci Rivero to the already formidable squad.
Excitement may be on a high for the UP team this early, but the newcomers would rather shun the hype and focus on what they can do to contribute to the squad's cause.
"I've been in the limelight since I was a kid. It's just a part of my life. It's not really pressure to me because I use it as a motivation. If you put it as pressure, then it's your fault. It's all in the mind," Paras said.
"I just see it as people talking about me and the team and at least, there's people talking about us now," he added.
Rivero, the bluechip transferee from La Salle, added: "We don't really want to think of it as malakas kami. Ever since I was with La Salle pa, ang sinasabi lang ng seniors namin is wag isipin na kami ang team to beat but rather, we all worked for this. Kaya sana magawa namin ng tama yung mga pinractice namin."
The entry of Paras and Rivero would definitely be a big boost to the Fighting Maroons roster, joining Season 81 MVP Bright Akhuetie and Mythical Team member Juan Gomez de Liaño.
Those additions are welcome ones, especially with the graduation of team captains Paul Desiderio and Diego Dario.
The two, though, know that next season's campaign is bigger than their personal milestones as they try to pick up where UP left off this past year -- one which saw them end a 21-year Final Four drought and a 32-year absence from the championship picture.
"UP showed na there's beauty in the struggle," said Paras, the second-generation star who is set to suit up for the alma mater of his dad Benjie.
"It's a great feeling since UP already made it to the Finals na. People said na they needed me and Ricci to get to the Finals, but no, they did not. Look at what happened?"
Rivero echoed those sentiments and said, "Sana lang mag-jell talaga kami together and maging okay."
"Focus pa rin ako and try to do my best, give everything for the team. I'm really looking forward to playing with these guys. Sana maging okay next year."
That's a welcome sign for coach Bo Perasol, who is priming his side to the heightened expectations his crew is about to get.
"Ang importante dyan is we have to live up to the expectations given to us. The challenge will definitely be harder," he said. "Hindi naman pwede mag-fall back kami doon sa mga nagsasabi na, 'Malakas ka naman talaga.'"
"We need to get ourselves together because we have the materials to be a good contender also," he added.