MANILA, Philippines—As University of the Philippines (UP) prepares to play in the UAAP final 4 for the first time in 21 years, star recruit Ricci Rivero gave his teammates some advice that he learned from a former coach.
"Sabi ko sa kanila, 'yung mga natutunan ko pa before. Kasi sinabi nga ni coach Aldin (Ayo) sa akin, 'wag kayong mag-stop from learning," Rivero told ABS-CBN News, referring to his former coach at De La Salle University.
"So palaging isipin niyo lang na hangga't hindi pa tapos yung laban, 'wag kayong magse-celebrate ng sobrang celebrate. Kasi mas masakit matalo nang nag-celebrate ka na."
The Fighting Maroons advanced to the semifinals of the UAAP Season 81 men's basketball tournament as the third seed, with an 8-6 win-loss record. They will play the second-seeded Adamson University in the final 4, with the Soaring Falcons having a twice-to-beat advantage.
UP's historic achievement triggered widespread celebrations in their community, and the players themselves were openly emotional following their win over La Salle in their final elimination round game that sealed their semis ticket.
But Rivero warned that the Fighting Maroons cannot be too happy, even as they broke a Final 4 drought that has spanned two decades.
"Sabi ko sa kanila, isipan nila ano 'yung bigger picture. So 'wag muna kayong mag-celebrate, na parang final 4 na kami, OK na kami, history na ito," said Rivero.
"Sabi ko 'wag ganoon 'yung mindset niyo," he added. "Isipin niyo na, 'finals, kaya namin 'yan'."
Rivero knows a thing or two about playing in the finals. After all, he made it to the championship round in his first two seasons with De La Salle, and helped the Aldin Ayo-mentored Green Archers win the UAAP Season 79 title.
He earned Mythical Team honors in Season 80, before making a much-publicized exit from La Salle and transferring to UP.
He is currently serving his residency and is expected to suit up for the Fighting Maroons next year, along with fellow recruit Kobe Paras.
"Sobrang saya, kasi mas matanda pa sa akin 'yung time na wala sila sa final 4," said Rivero, who watched as UP beat his former team, 97-81, last November 14 to secure the semifinal spot.
"Sobrang happy ako for them, kasi I've seen them work the whole duration na andoon ako," he added.
Rivero knows that with UP making the final 4 this year, pressure will be on him and Paras to further elevate the Fighting Maroons next season, when they make their highly anticipated debuts in Diliman.
But right now, he is not dwelling on thoughts of next season. Instead, he simply wants to see his team succeed against the Soaring Falcons in their Final 4 game.
"Adamson, kaya naman 'yan eh," he said. "Nothing against Adamson, malakas ang Adamson, but then, 'yun ang sinasabi ko lang na mindset nila na sana mangyari kasi they lost to Adamson twice. And I think lucky shot lang pareho."
He then offered some final words for Sean Manganti, the Adamson player who hit the "lucky shots" that doomed UP in both of their elimination round games.
"Sean, ikaw na bahala," Rivero said, smiling. "Bro, you got this."
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.)