CEBU CITY – Recruitment has always been a weak point for the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, who, after several last-place finishes since the turn of the decade, have found it difficult to find players to don the maroon and white.
But the Fighting Maroons’ recent trip to the finals has bolstered the team’s profile, so much so that a cadre of players and backers recently headed down south to Cebu for a recruitment trip.
“It’s only going to be one way to go but up, recruitment-wise. It’s been difficult to recruit for UP since it’s hard to recruit players to a team that doesn’t really win but it’s going to be better now,” asserted incoming forward Kobe Paras, who was joined by fellow recruit Ricci Rivero and current Maroons Juan and Javi Gomez de Liano.
The King Maroon himself, Cebuano Paul Desiderio, was also supposed to come had it not been for the PBA Draft Combine.
Leading the entourage were Fighting Maroons team manager and former Cavite Governor Jonvic Remulla and top patron Patrick Gregorio.
As cherished as the experience of making the finals was for the team and the entire community, Rivero said they shifted their focus on preparing for Season 82 as soon as the day after Season 81 ended.
“It’s not like we immediately trained but more on the mindset. We savored the moment. It was sad to lose but reaching something as historic as that for the school means a lot for everyone,” said Rivero.
As stacked as the Maroons are for Season 82 – Paras and Rivero will be joining a team that still has reigning MVP Bright Akhuetie, Mythical Five guard Juan Gomez de Liano and spitfire guard Jun Manzo – nothing is ever guaranteed.
“I just want to focus on this offseason. I don’t expect anything at all, I take everything day by day,” said Paras, the son of the player who led UP to its last title back in 1986, former PBA MVP Benjie Paras.
Rivero, the Euro-step extraordinaire guard, is also on the same page as Paras.
“The guys did really great. But a team without Paul, sobrang big factor yung pagkawala niya so we have to step up. We didn’t come here to chase something, but to improve ourselves. One game at a time, we don’t have to think na magcha-champion tayo kaagad,” said Rivero.
With the Fighting Maroons set to fly to Serbia and Turkey for training in the offseason, exciting times lie ahead for UP.
Remulla asserted that much will be expected from this group but the challenge is now with the coaching staff to try and put the pieces together.
“They’ll be expecting everything. The pressure is on management, the coaching staff to make sure that everyone is on the same page. That’s the challenge for the coaches more than the players,” Remulla said.