SM Prime Holdings chiefHans Sy said National University’s historic return to the UAAP Finals on Wednesday more than made up for the Final Four disappointment the Bulldogs had to endure last season.
Sy celebrated his 59th birthday on Monday and got a big blowout from the Bulldogs on Wednesday in the form of a 65-63 win over the top-seeded Ateneo Blue Eagles that sent the long-suffering team to its first UAAP Finals appearance in 44 years.
But the birthday boy insisted the best is yet to come.
“I told them, this (win over Ateneo) is the best birthday gift yet. Why yet? Because we still have the Finals to come, and I reminded them last year, it (Final Four loss) was also on my birthday. We lost to UST, so it kinda made up for it,” Sy told a handful of sportswriters.
Last season, NU fell short of its first UAAP title in more than six decades despite being the top seed heading into the Final Four, squandering a twice-to-beat edge against University of Santo Tomas' Tigers.
This time, the soft-spoken SM Prime Holdings head, who masterminded the Bulldogs' transformation from league minnows to title contenders since the Sy family took over majority ownership of NU in 2008, was so deeply involved he even gave a pep talk at halftime.
“I just told them (Bulldogs) to remain focused, don’t even think about the bad calls but just focus on the game and do what you do best,” he said.
“Don’t get intimidated because there’s really a lot of intimidation going on. But they really delivered,” he added.
The Sy family's financial backing is largely credited for invigorating NU’s sports program, but the son of business taipan Henry Sy said the Bulldogs' awakening is just part of the process of improving the school in general.
“I wouldn’t say envision, but we really worked hard to make it (NU’s UAAP improvement in sports) happen also. I wouldn’t want to say in 10 years (we will do it), but we want to uplift the school, starting now with the sports and next, the education itself,” Sy said.