Bo Perasol knows how lost the University of the Philippines' basketball program used to be, seeing one frustrating season after another go by.
But when he took on the job as Fighting Maroons head coach in 2016, he saw it as a chance to work on an experiment he had seen produced remarkable results from his previous employer – the Ateneo Blue Eagles.
In a talk with ABS-CBN News sports journalist Camille Naredo on the “Post-Game” podcast last September, Perasol said he marveled at the Blue Eagles system and how continuity was made possible by a supportive environment.
“When I took over (from Ateneo coach Norman Black) parang ang nangyari ako lang ’yung ipinalit,” Perasol said.
“OK, umalis si coach Norman, ‘O, coach Bo dito ka. Trabahuin mo kung ano ’yung trabaho mo.’ Kumbaga very solid. Walang nagbago. Hindi man lang gumewang. ‘O, coach ito ’yung mga potential recruits natin. Sino ba ’yung gusto mo rito. Nawala na ’yung core ng nag-5-peat. Rebuilding na tayo. Ito ’yung mga potential mong recruits.’ So hindi siya na-shake ’yung organization.
“ ’Yun ’yung gusto kong gayahin, ’yung paano siya masu-sustain (sa UP).”
Perasol knew the formula was correct; whether it would translate to success on the court, however, that he had no control over.
But as his time at Diliman went by, progress became palpable.
In Season 79, his first year as coach, he towed the Fighting Maroons to a 5-9 record, which in itself looked subpar until their record over a four-season span is mentioned – they could only muster five wins in 50-plus games at one point.
In Season 80, Perasol’s squad saw a one-game improvement, before cracking the Final 4 in 81 -- and making a shock run to the Finals with an upset of the twice-to-beat Adamson University in the semifinals.
They fell short of the title to the Ateneo Blue Eagles, but it was clear at this point Perasol’s experiment was working.
In Season 82, they emerged as one of the favorites after Perasol assembled a squad that was a mix of homegrown players (veteran Jun Manzo and the Gomez de Liano brothers) and star transferees (Ricci Rivero, Kobe Paras and Bright Akhuetie).
When he proved he could win, booster support naturally proceeded. With the basketball pieces coming together and the UP community providing resources and an ample supply of morale, a winning program that once looked unimaginable this side of Katipunan was beginning to take shape.
“Umpisa, ang iniisip ko lang how to survive. Pero nu’ng nag-uumpisa nang maging mabuti, maging maayos ’yung programa, and most especially nu’ng pumasok ng final four at nag-finals, ang iniisip ko na ngayon is how to sustain it,” Perasol said.
“ ’Yung lagi kong sinasabi, hindi siya magiging personality based. Na halimbawa wala ako, hindi ’yung magsisimula na naman sa zero.
“Hindi siya magka-crumble. Magiging institution na s’ya, na OK magpapalit tayo ng tao pero the structure is already there. You just have to do your job, ’yung susunod. ’Yan ’yung gusto ko magiging test.
“In fact, noon ko pa iniisip paano natin masusubukan na itong programa natin malakas na. Hindi lang ng isang taon, o ’yung susunod na taon, ’yung pangatlong taon. Kundi ’yung magiging consistently na competitive siya, not only as far as the roster is concerned but also as far as the organization is concerned.”
That test came at the onset of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
As the Fighting Maroons’ trajectory was ready to skyrocket, basketball action in the Philippines was suspended and Perasol’s players started to depart and look for opportunities elsewhere.
At this point, that system, that culture, that winning program he carefully crafted would go through the wringer.
But because he has achieved some stability and UP basketball became reputable, the do-over was not as rocky. Hindi gumewang, as he said of the personnel transitions in his days at Ateneo.
These are the team’s key transactions over the past 2-and-a-half years:
- In December 2019, UP acquired Maodo Malick Diouf via transfer from Centro Escolar University, essentially a replacement for Akhuetie.
- In August 2020, the team secured the commitment of Nazareth School of NU stars Carl Tamayo and Gerry Abadiano; later that month, CJ Cansino came on board as University of Santo Tomas saw an exodus of players in the fallout of an unauthorized scrimmage during the pandemic.
- This February, Zavier Lucero, from Cal State Maritime Academy, committed to the Fighting Maroons.
- In July 2021, Perasol resigned as head coach, saying it was time for somebody else to call the shots; a month later, Goldwin Monteverde, a championship coach at the juniors level, was appointed his replacement.
When Perasol stepped down, it was evident in his statement that he was concerned with the continuity on the team, saying he had promised UP to stay for one more year after Season 82, “just to sustain the rebuilding process, which started many many years back.”
Fast-forward to Friday and the seeds he had planted in 2016, kernels he had never been certain would amount to anything, bore the most satisfying of fruits – a first UAAP championship since 1986.
“Iyan iyong naging lesson ko sa Ateneo – community support, pagiging structurally sound ng organization, saka yung school spirit na sobrang present niyan,” Perasol recalled in the podcast.
“Hindi lang sa community pero sa team that they are truly proud, and they take it upon themselves to make the community proud. They’re not playing for themselves, kung hindi we are fighting for something bigger than ourselves. ’Yun ang spirito ng pagiging Atenista.
“ ’Yun ang gusto kong maramdaman ng mga taga-UP.”