MANILA, Philippines – University of the Philippines' (UP) crucial victory over De La Salle University last Sunday was a cause for celebration in their community, as it assured the Fighting Maroons of a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final 4.
Yet for Jett Manuel – one of the most celebrated UP players in recent years – the win was quite bittersweet.
"It's tough. It's really tough," said Manuel after the game. "I didn't expect it to be this tough to watch the UP-La Salle game."
UP blew a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter to claim a 71-68 win, with Kobe Paras scoring the go-ahead dunk inside the final minute. The result ousted La Salle from the Final 4 race.
Manuel was thrilled for his alma mater, as the rise of the UP program continued. But he was heartbroken for his younger brother, Joaqui, a sophomore for La Salle who finished with 4 points, 3 rebounds, and a steal in the narrow loss.
"It's really emotional for me, because I'll always bleed maroon, but my brother is always my brother," he said. "I love my brother so much."
"So it's not about loving UP or my brother more. But, 'yun lang, parang I'm caught in between. It's really torture for me to watch these games," he admitted.
The high stakes of the game made it all the more difficult for Manuel, as he knows all too well the feeling of giving 100% for his team, only to fall short in the end.
"Binuhos ko 'yung parang buong, parang blood sweat and tears talaga, I gave to UP when I was playing," said Manuel.
"And then now, it's my brother, and those people know how much I care for him. To see him naman getting hurt, or siyempre masakit na ma-eliminate, it's hard for me rin," he added.
Manuel, who had a short-lived PBA career with Ginebra after college, is always ready to give words of encouragement for his younger brother after tough losses, to tell him to keep his head up after subpar games.
"I think I'm in a situation where I can tell him, 'Just gotta keep moving forward, pare.' Yun talaga, sasabihin ko sa kanya, I'm in a perfect situation," said Manuel, who never made the Final 4 with UP during his UAAP career.
"But looking at the positives naman, it's just his second year. The La Salle program, yeah it wasn't what it once was, but it's still one of the best programs, 'di ba," he also said.
Though they failed to make the Final 4, La Salle still ended their campaign on a high note as they routed Adamson University, 89-63, in their last elimination round game on Wednesday. Joaqui contributed 4 rebounds in 16 minutes of action.
Now that his younger brother's season is done, Manuel said it is time for him to take on a new challenge – to keep getting better.
"Get better next year. You just need to keep working. Positives na lang," he said.
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