NEAR the end of the first round and on the wrong end of a blowout against underdog University of Santo Tomas, longtime University of the Philippines assistant Ricky Dandan berated his players for their lackadaisical effort in the game.
“Puro tayo pa-pogi,” shouted Dandan as his voice echoed around the Mall of Asia Arena.
That time though, seems like a long time ago now as the Fighting Maroons are in the Finals for the first time in 32 years.
“The process of building a winning team, it has to go through that. When we recruit marquee players ang tendency talaga niyan magaling sila magpapogi or magmagaling but at the end of the day, you need to encourage them that it’s not just about you,” said UP head coach Bo Perasol.
“The other two, three, four guys, it’s all about the team and how we can win together. Bawasan natin yun if we want to win. We realized that sa middle ng season. They just responded well,” he added.
More than a month now after his infamous outburst, Dandan is certainly satisfied with how the players rose above those struggles. Once in danger of being the biggest disappointments this season, the Fighting Maroons now have won themselves a shot at UAAP kingpins Ateneo – a series where they’ll definitely come in as heavy underdogs.
But maybe being the underdog suits them more, as their character showed when their backs are against the wall – something that Dandan is thrilled to see.
“Our learning curve was very deep. When Bo assembled this team, we talked about what our goals are, we knew very well that we had to hurdle a lot of obstacles because our players weren’t used to expectations, especially during the first round, we struggled,” said Dandan.
“We had that blowout loss to UST, that was the start of our learning curve going up. We needed to experience those things, those things cannot be taught, you need to experience that,” said Dandan.
”After that, instead of unraveling, our guys talked together and stuck with coach Bo.”
For Perasol, he’s just thankful that his players were able to turn it around in time.
Perasol has shared in the past that he was on the brink of quitting, but he’s just grateful to see his players stand up for him and stick together as they powered through those struggles as one team.
“Ito yung UE, halftime. If we’re gonna lose that I don’t think we’ll have a chance,” Perasol said.
“They responded in a way na we’ll do it together. It’s not just lip service, they showed it. One day Juan (Gomez de Liano) will have a breakout game. One day it will be Jun Manzo, Paul (Desiderio), Bright (Akhuetie) will have a good game. I’m just fortunate to and blessed to have this team.”