MANILA, Philippines – After having part of the University of the Philippines' (UP) coaching staff for the past couple of years, San Miguel Beer guard Alex Cabagnot was not surprised to see two Fighting Maroons selected as Gilas Pilipinas cadets.
UP's own "Crunchman," Paul Desiderio, and reigning Rookie of the Year Juan Gomez de Liaño both made it to the "23 of 23" wish list of coach Chot Reyes, thus giving them a chance of making it to the national team that will represent the Philippines in the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
"I wasn't surprised at all," Cabagnot said after San Miguel Beer practice on Tuesday afternoon.
"You know that Paul is a great player," he noted. "He showed his charisma, and he showed his leadership to us and to the UP community for the last two years that I've been there."
"And Juan has a lot of potential, as you guys know already," he added.
Desiderio has been at the forefront of UP's rise in the past couple of UAAP seasons. He made it to the Mythical Team in Season 79, and established himself as a premier crunch time performer in Season 80, when his mantra of "Atin 'to" became a rallying cry for the community.
The young Gomez de Liaño, meanwhile, is the face of UP's future. The flashy guard was the juniors MVP in Season 79, and rebuffed other schools to stay at home in Diliman. He quickly established himself as a college-ready talent and easily took home top rookie honors in Season 80.
Cabagnot has yet to talk to both players in person, but the veteran guard was filled with pride at his protégés' achievements.
"The ceiling is off," he said. "Their ceiling is open, and they have infinite time to grow 'til 2023. They have a lot of time to reach their zenith, reach their pinnacle in basketball. I'm excited for their growth."
He is also excited about what Gomez de Liaño and Desiderio's inclusion in the Gilas pool will mean for UP. Cabagnot knows very well how national team experience can translate into improvement, having watched one of his teammates reach another level after playing for Gilas Pilipinas.
"I think June Mar (Fajardo) had his first MVP after he played for Gilas," said Cabagnot.
"I think that just gives a different light to a player," he explained. "He sees things differently, he sees a broader horizon with how they look at the game, and how they conduct themselves with other players."
"As long as they're playing more, as long as they're getting more reps in, as long as they're under the right tutelage with Coach Bo (Perasol), Coach Chot… I think it will be a good thing for UP."
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