Shortly after University of the East stunned De La Salle University last October 12 behind Kyle Paranada, the Red Warriors made their way back to their Mall of Asia Arena locker room in high spirits.
Pandemonium ensued as the ecstatic Red Warriors let their emotions out, as if they had just won a championship. At the time, it was only their second win of UAAP Season 85.
The Recto-based side would go on to repeat against the Green Archers last Saturday, as Rey Remogat made a clutch triple in overtime.
“Coach Jack told us to just keep fighting in our last two games, to stay locked in and have a no-quit attitude until the season is done,” incoming senior Harvey Pagsanjan said.
“The Ateneo game went to overtime, and Coach Jack praised us for that. And then we all had extra motivation against La Salle because of the coaches involved and the narrative.”
The second-round win over La Salle allowed the Red Warriors to collect five wins overall and finish sixth in the men’s basketball team standings. To cap the season, the entire squad partied in Batangas the next day.
Celebrating the positive end to the year was a moment the Red Warriors deservingly earned, given how tumultuous Season 84 had been for them.
“It wasn’t bad at all. We had five wins this season compared to none last time. We were so delighted,” Pagsanjan said.
When UE’s losses kept piling back in Season 84, Pagsanjan made it a point not to open his social media accounts at all.
The 6-foot forward knew the Red Warriors would be the butt of the jokes in hoops discussions online given their winless run.
“I never opened my Facebook account throughout Season 84. I knew I would see all the memes about UE, about us losing all the time,” he shared.
His squad’s campaign the previous season had been so forgettable that fans only remember it now for lowlights such as head coach Jack Santiago’s suspension and an own goal by Orin Catacutan.
As one of the seniors on the team, Pagsanjan bore the brunt and challenged everyone to step up and change UE’s reputation.
“We used the experience as fuel and told ourselves, this can’t happen next season. Everyone should begin respecting us again,” he shared.
The struggles didn’t stop there yet for UE. It opened its 2022 Filoil Ecooil preseason stint with three straight losses, and Pagsanjan feared the negativity would begin to consume the embattled Red Warriors.
“I’m one of the team’s main men last season. We didn’t win a single game. Then, we lost our first (three) games in the Filoil Cup,” he recalled.
Fortunately, Pagsanjan wasn’t alone in what he wanted to achieve; Santiago kept pushing his ward to become the team’s leader.
Then, PBA veteran and former UAAP champion Don Allado also entered the picture as an assistant coach. He didn’t waste time in holding a pep talk that motivated his new team even more.
“Coach Don Allado came in. He pushed us beyond our limits. He told us that we should start winning not only for the team but also for ourselves, for our careers,” Pagsanjan said.
“So that happened, while Coach Jack kept pressuring me as one of the veterans of the team. I have to shoulder the load and lead the team.”
The long drought finally ended on August 3, when the Red Warriors stunned Arellano University 58-50 – a win that sent Pagsanjan to tears.
“We lost to Arellano in a tune-up game. They led by more than 20 points. That’s why when we were able to beat them, I couldn’t stop myself from being emotional,” he said.
From there, the Red Warriors were able to piece together a better group with the likes of Luis Villegas, CJ Payawal, and Gani Stevens bolstering the roster ahead of Season 85.
All that’s left to do was to translate the building blocks into actual success come the UAAP competition – and they did.
“Before Season 85, I’ve been very vocal in practices. I kept telling my teammates to focus. I would even shout at them at times even if it gets them angry,” Pagsanjan added.
“But we knew we had to focus. It started with our training camp and it translated into how we executed everything in our games.”
Now, the Red Warriors have a better campaign to build on from when they prepare for Season 86, and Pagsanjan expects everyone to respect them as they’ve successfully turned the year around.
“After beating big teams, I’m sure we’ve earned their respect again. No one can consider us pushovers again,” Pagsanjan said. “We’ll build up from these experiences for Season 86 and hopefully we can make the Final Four.”