PAUL Desiderio couldn't help but smile as he appreciated the similarities between his final collegiate year at University of the Philippines and Sisi Rondina's farewell season at University of Santo Tomas.
Desiderio's famed "Atin 'To!" battlecry inspired the UP Maroons' surprising run to the UAAP basketball finals last season, much like the "Kami Naman" motto of the Rondina-led UST Tigresses.
Both eventually turned into cult heroes as Desiderio led the Fighting Maroons to their first finals appearance in 32 years, while Rondina brought the Golden Tigresses to the championship series for the first time since 2011.
It was also no coincidence that both are Cebuano athletes who know each other from way back.
"Ganon talaga ang mga Cebuano," remarked the Liloan, Cebu-born Desiderio on Monday when both were honored during the 2019 Chooks-to-Go Collegiate Press Corps Awards Night at Amelie Hotel Manila.
The 22-year-old guard, who now plays for Blackwater Elite in the PBA, shared that he saw Rondina play back in their high school days in Cebu.
"Nung high school, nakikita ko siyang naglalaro kasi sa Liloan din siya nag-high school," he reminisced. "Nagkikita kami at di na ako nag-doubt na handa siya makipagpatayan para sa team niya."
Rondina, who was born and raised in Compostela, Cebu, also found parallels in both their journeys.
"Pareho kami ng pinaglabanan," said the 22-year-old outside hitter. "Nilalaban namin yung team namin and we love our sport. Nalalabas namin lahat ng passion namin and diskarte. Pareho kami sa kung paano yung ilalaro ng team at paano tulungan ang team. Pinakita namin talaga kung paano lumaban ang mga Bisaya."
Both fell short of a championship, but Desiderio and Rondina's impact on their own teams will forever be remembered - and celebrated - in the years to come.
And that, to them, define their legacies in Diliman and Espana, respectively.
"Kahit wala na ako dun, at least kami yung nag-start," said Desiderio as he expects a sustained excellence for the reinvigorated UP Maroons program. "Kami yung nag-sacrifice nung walang-wala pa yung team kaya sana, magtuloy-tuloy."
Rondina said: "Ang sarap sa feeling na ang dami mo palang taong napapasaya through your passion sa volleyball. Happy kami kasi naibalik namin yung UST community, nagsama-sama ulit sila at nagtiwala ulit.
"Isa lang naman talaga ang gusto ko, na makita yung UST community na nakangiti lahat dahil 'yun 'yung deserve nila eh, na nakangiti at the end."