[Editor's note: We now present the winner in our Sportsmen Who Exceeded Expectations in the lead-up to the announcement of our 2018 Sportsman of the Year]
AS the only holdover from the last University of the Philippines side to go 0-14 in a season, Paul Desiderio had the best perspective on how much the Fighting Maroons had achieved this season.
"Dati ilan lang ang nanonood sa amin. First year ko, mabibilang mo lang, mga 20, pero ngayon, sobrang dami na. Sobrang tuwa ko lang," said the Maroons' team captain at the end of a momentous season when State U exceeded all expectations.
The Cebuano guard said he thought about moving at the end of that horror season, saying, "Player akong mula Cebu, 0-14 ang start mo. Ine-expect mo lilipat ako talaga ng school, pero nagpasensya lang ako. Tinitiis ko, yung mga taon na one win lang kami, kahit na parang mukha na kaming loko."
Well, he was mighty glad he stayed.
Before his UP career could end, Desiderio became part of the single biggest Cinderella story of the year - enough for Bo Perasol and his audacious bunch to be named among SPIN.ph's Top Sports Heroes of 2018 under the Sportsmen Who Exceeded Expectations category.
After a so-so start to the season that once again raised fears of another horror season, the Maroons went on a dream run that saw them reach the Final Four for the first time in 21 years as the third seed.
That was not all. The Maroons, riding the heroics of Nigerian recruit Bright Akhuetie, irreverent sophomore Juan Gomez de Liano, and Desiderio, took down twice-to-beat second-seed Adamson to reach the finals for the first time in over three decades.
The season didn't quite end like the Maroons wanted it to, as top seed and overwhelming favorite Ateneo stamped its class with a two-game sweep on the finals to wrap up a second successive championship.
But no matter.
By then, no one can take away the best underdog story of the year from these intrepid Maroons.