MANILA, Philippines – Paul Desiderio's UAAP career quite literally started from the bottom.
Desiderio was a rookie in 2013 when the University of the Philippines (UP) slumped their way to a 0-14 season. The memories of that trying year has not left Desiderio, even as the Fighting Maroons steadily improved over the next few seasons.
He went on to become UP's hero – who can ever forget his iconic "Atin 'to" battle cry in Season 80? And now, with the Fighting Maroons set to play in the Final 4 for the first time in 21 years, Desiderio is euphoric.
"Napakasarap," said Desiderio, after UP clobbered De La Salle University, 97-81, on Wednesday to secure the third seed in the UAAP Season 81 semifinals.
"Nag-start ako ng 0-14," he reminisced. "Tapos ngayon, Final 4. May chance pa mag-finals. May chance pang mag-champion kung ganoon. So buhay pa kami."
"Buhay pa ang UP," he stressed.
Desiderio blew a kiss to the UP gallery at the Mall of Asia Arena as the game was winding down, then waved a towel ecstatically as they celebrated their triumph. Later, he was grinning even as his teammates became emotional while singing the UP Naming Mahal.
For the graduating guard, this day – this game – was the payoff for all the sacrifices he had made and all the opportunities he had turned down in favor of returning to UP for his fifth and final season.
"Pinag-isipan ko kung babalik ako o hindi," he admitted.
"'Yun nga, pagbalik ko, sacrifice talaga ako. My personal goal, sinakripisyo ko para sa team," he added.
There is no doubt that those sacrifices were worth it.
"Worth it naman. Sobrang saya," said Desiderio.
"Sobrang saya ko, kasi sobrang hyped 'yung community," he also said. "Sobrang first time ko na mas marami kami sa La Salle."
Desiderio and this batch of UP players have already etched their name in the record books, but the captain vowed that they will not be satisfied with this.
"Kailangan positive lagi. Lagi naming iniisip na one game at a time," said Desiderio. "Mag-celebrate kami ngayon, pero next day sa practice, focus na kami sa Adamson."
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