MANILA, Philippines – When JD Cagulangan sank a triple to win Game 3 of the UAAP Season 84 Finals, he not only ended 36 years of futility for the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons.
The shot – a stepback 3-pointer over the outstretched arms of Ateneo's Gian Mamuyac – also brought immeasurable joy to a community that has long sought success in basketball, and one that is reeling from a particularly difficult week.
"Alam naman natin how politically wired the UP community is, and how divided. Pero, pagdating sa basketball, nagiging isa ang UP community," said Bo Perasol, program director of the UP men's basketball team.
"We're just fortunate to give them this respite sa mga nangyayari, sa pandemic, sa nangyayari politically sa ating bayan," he added. "We're just happy, and we're joyful that we're able to give a sort of an entertainment."
Before the Fighting Maroons gave their community a respite, they first took them on a rollercoaster of emotions. UP led the Ateneo Blue Eagles by as much as nine points in the first half of Game 3, but could never put the defending champions away.
The Blue Eagles led by five points late before the Maroons roared back, and a CJ Cansino triple sent the game to overtime. In the extension, Ateneo again threatened to run away with the game, but Cagulangan orchestrated a spectacular closing stretch -- he hit a difficult three-pointer to keep UP in the game, assisted on a game-tying dunk by Malick Diouf, and then hit the championship-winning triple.
"They [UP community] would be proud," said Perasol. "Kanina, nag-uusap kami ni Coach Gold (Monteverde). Sabi ko sa kanya, 'Alam mo nagbibigay ng stress sa amin, maibigay, 'yung gutom, 'yung gutom ng community for the longest time, na inaasam nila.'"
"And eto nga, naibigay na natin sa kanila itong championship na ito. Para bang nakaisa tayo," he added.
Perasol, who coached UP for four seasons before stepping down in June 2021, is especially glad that they delivered a championship during such a challenging period.
It's not just the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the cancellation of Season 83 and still had a great impact on the conduct of Season 84. Recent UAAP games have been held amidst a politically charged atmosphere, with players taking a stand and making their preferences known.
Without going into detail, Perasol acknowledged that within their team there are differing political opinions. The one rule they have is that there should be no imposition of political colors on others, he explained.
"We're all free to choose kung ano man ang susuportahan. But in the end, ang sinasabi ko nga, despite that, 'yung ability nitong championship na 'to to bring the UP community is just a blessing to all of us," he said.
"Napakalaking bagay nito sa amin," he added. "I'm sure the players have felt that, and in fact, ang nasa isip lang nila, more than that, is just to have this opportunity to enjoy it -- to end this drought."
The Fighting Maroons will celebrate their title with the UP community through a bonfire at the UP College of Human Kinetics on Saturday.