MO Gingerich shed tears as soon as UP Naming Mahal blasted through the speakers of Mall of Asia Arena. Sorry, he couldn't help it, after a 97-81 win over La Salle guaranteed the school a place in the UAAP Final Four.
For Gingerich, the win meant more than an end to the Maroons' 21-year absence from the playoffs. It also meant the end to the dark days when the team became the butt of jokes and memes while enduring one losing season after another.
"It's one of the most special feelings na ever ko naramdaman. Kaya nung narinig ko yung UP Naming Mahal, umiyak talaga ako," the Philippine-born American shared.
Gingerich, now an assistant to UP head coach Bo Perasol, has every reason to weep. It was bad enough to endure one 0-14 season for the Maroons. He went through two of those. He was in fact one of only eight players to experience both.
So after being there during the lowest of lows, he was the most ecstatic when the Fighting Maroons finally lived up to their name.
"I was thinking baka wala na talaga, baka yung UP never ko na maranasan umabot ng Final Four. Goal ko lagi yun as a player, kahit nung 0-14 kami. Pero nung time na nangyari na talaga na nanalo kami sa La Salle, sobrang special na feeling talaga," he said.
With the dawn of a new day, it was less painful for Gingerich to look back at those two 0-14 seasons, and all their gory details.
He remembered this scene back in 2010, after Season 73 had mercifully come to an end. Inside the team's Araneta Coliseum dugout, players were left speechless after dropping another close one, 67-61, to University of the East, for the Maroons' 14th straight defeat. It also was the team's second winless season in four years.
To be fair, the team didn't really roll over and die. Save for five 20-plus point routs, the boys from Diliman gave the opposition a run for their money.
"I didn't play as much. It was just my second year. But sobrang sakit sa amin noon sa dugout," Gingerich said.
There was no clue of the 0-14 season happening, he remembered.
Coming off a season where UP was the only squad to beat defending champion Ateneo in the eliminations, excitement was in the air in Diliman. Highly-touted recruits Mike Silungan and Joshua Saret were on board and the Maroons even went to Las Vegas for their offseason training. Add that to the core of Woody Co, Magi Sison, and Martin Reyes and fans were salivating on the prospect of a Final Four appearance.
"Grabe talaga yung buildup, yung hype sa team na yun. Sa newspapers, may mga stories about Mike Silungan and Joshua Saret. The team then was really talented," said Gingerich.
However, an 80-62 opening-day drubbing at the hands La Salle and a 66-59 defeat to Adamson triggered a domino effect for UP. Head coach Aboy Castro was sacked just two games into the season and then-consultant Boyet Fernandez was installed in his place.
That coaching change shook the team, Gingerich said.
"The management, at the time, was medyo impatient after the first two games," shared Gingerich. "Nakikita ko yung naramdaman ng seniors ko kasi si coach Aboy, sobrang dami niyang ginawa para sa team at para sa UP. Siya ang dahilan kung bakit nakapag-States kami. Siya ang dahilan kung paano nakuha yung mga recruits na si Mike and Joshua. And I saw it took a toll sa mga seniors namin."
The struggle soon reflected in the games as the Maroons dropped all 14 games by an average losing margin of 12.9 points.
"It was a very difficult season and we had so many games wherein panalo na kami [natalo pa]. That season talaga, lahat ng klase ng pagkatalo, naranasan ko. Dikit, tambak, panalo na natalo pa, lahat ng klase. Sobrang sakit ng season na yun because talented talaga yung team," said Gingerich.
Gingerich, a sophomore at that time, thought his college career had hit rock-bottom and can't get any worse. He was wrong. After collecting a grand total of three wins over the past two years, UP went on another historic dive in 2013.
"That team was definitely less talented than the 2010 team, in my opinion, but I still think we could've won games," admitted Gingerich, then on his fourth playing year and the new team captain. "Obviously, I don't think we could've made it to the Final Four even if we played amazing, but we could've won games and we were in some games as well where we had a chance to win."
What he didn't expect, though, was a relapse of the tumult that hit the team three years earlier.
Ricky Dandan, the Fighting Maroons coach for the better part of the last two-and-a-half years, tendered his resignation after a falling out with team manager Rey Madrid, who eventually took the job eight games into UAAP Season 76. UP was 0-8 at that point, but had to scamper for a lead playmaker after Mikee Reyes parted ways with the squad just after the team's first game.
"That left us a hole at point guard. Henry Asilum wasn't in great shape coming to that season as well, so others, myself, Jason Ligad, Paul Desiderio, Kyle Suarez were forced to play point guard which is not our natural position," said Gingerich.
But more than Reyes' departure, the coaching change was a bigger blow for that year's captain.
"That was a lot harder on me, I think, than in 2010. A lot of the burden was on me. The coaching change, talagang I really took it hard, I guess kasi si coach Ricky, pang-third year na niya with us and my relationship with him has grown," he said.
Gingerich, together with main cogs Raul Soyud and Joseph Marata, can scent a 0-14 deja vu from a mile away but fought it. It proved inevitable.
"May part, lalo na sa aming mga nakaranas ng 0-14 before na parang, 'Ito na naman.' Inevitable na yung 0-14 at that point. Although we still had six games after coach Rey took over, there were games where we had a chance to win. But talagang we never were able to pull it off," he said.
UP lost those last six games under Madrid by an average margin of 14.0 points, including a slim 76-73 defeat to UE in its last assignment.
"Yung season na yun, maraming games na pagdating namin sa game, we didn't give all our effort para sa team. Wala eh, out na kami. We're 0-10, 0-11, so ano pang magagawa namin?" he said.
That was then.
Gingerich stayed on at UP after his graduation in 2014 and served as assistants to Rensy Bajar and eventually Perasol. The Maroons continued to struggle, but Gingerich started to notice changes happening from within, more so after Perasol - a former UP player - stepped in after a forgettable stint at Ateneo.
More than anything else, Gingerich said Perasol changed the mindset inside the dugout and in the community. Suddenly everyone started to believe the Maroons can win, the players most of all.
"I think yun yung biggest thing na nadala ni coach Bo (Perasol) para sa team, which is yung winning mindset, na it's not ok na matalo. Kasi sa mga winning programs, yun talaga ang mindset nila. Sa amin noon, parang matalo, okay lang," Gingerich, 28, said.
"Kaya sobrang okay din yung nakikita ko sa group ngayon, which is iba yung work ethic nila kumpara sa ibang mga teammates ko noon. Talagang makikita mo sa group ngayon, talagang gustong-gusto nila manalo at gagawan nila ng paraan na manalo ang team."
Only Desiderio remains from the last 0-14 UP team and he is now the captain of a team that has completely changed the landscape of UP basketball. With Season MVP Bright Akhuetie and brothers Juan and Javi Gomez de Liano on board, the Maroons have transformed into a contender.
And with the gifted pair of Kobe Paras and Ricci Rivero becoming eligible next season, a first UAAP championship for the Diliman-based school since Kobe's dad Benjie led the Maroons to a maiden title in 1986 is no longer a pipe dream.
But as bright as the future may be for the Maroons, Gingerich said the team musn't forget the lessons from its sad past. Gingerich has made it his life mission to make sure these lessons are not forgotten.
Gingerich remembers every single one of the players who, like him, endured not one but two 0-14 seasons. Martin Reyes, Woody Co, Mark Lopez, Magi Sison, and Diony Hipolito in Seasons 70 and 73. Julius Wong in Seasons 70 and 76. He and Martin Pascual in Seasons 73 and 76. They, too, mustn't be forgotten, he said.
Unlike the names above, UP players now never had it so good, Gingerich said. They must not take it for granted.
"Yung mga players ngayon compared before, spoiled sila. Minsan, parang hindi nila alam how easy they have it now compared to us before na wala kaming pagkain, wala kaming allowance, lahat. Whereas ngayon, halos lahat spoon-fed na sa kanila.
"Even the level of the coaching now with what we do, what we give them, it's a lot different than before. The level of the players are obviously higher as well. That's why I'm always telling these guys that you have to count your blessings," he said.
The Fighting Maroons must keep their feet planted on the ground as there are still bigger mountains to climb, he added.
"We have to stay hungry. We can't be content with where we're at now. Whether we make it to the Finals or win the championship this year, we have to stay hungry and that's what the good teams do," he said.
"I'm really happy for these guys and I want them to really enjoy this moment after the season is over. But I don't want to see them walking around Palma Hall going, 'Yeah yeah, you know. We're here. We made it.' They can't think that they've made it.
"I'm sure the whole UP community, they adore these guys right now, but if we want to do it again next year, if we want to exceed what we've done this year, we have to stay hungry and we have to stay humble. We have to keep working."
The 21-year drought may be over, but Gingerich is wishing to high heavens that this run to the Final Four isn't a one-off eclipse, but rather the start of brighter days for UP.
"This is our first Final Four in 21 years," he said. "I hope it doesn't take another 21 years to reach it again."