MANILA, Philippines – After years of being mired in the cellar of the UAAP, the Fighting Maroons have begun to bring pride once more to the University of the Philippines (UP).
They took another step forward in the Season 80 men’s basketball tournament, winning six of their 14 games. Paul Desiderio established himself as a big-time performer in the clutch, while Juan Gomez de Liaño was the runaway winner of the Rookie of the Year award.
Even in the offseason, Desiderio and Gomez de Liaño continue to make UP proud. Recently, both players were named to the “23 for 23” wish list of Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes, and on Monday, they participated in the national team practice for the first time.
“Sobrang saya,” said Desiderio, a one-time UAAP Mythical Team member, who was in his hometown of Cebu when he learned that he made it to the national team pool.
“Parang gusto ko na nga bumalik kaagad ng Manila noon,” he added.
Gomez de Liaño was one of the youngest players present on Monday night, and the flashy guard was admittedly shocked at his inclusion.
“I was really excited and looking forward to working with these guys,” he said. “I’m really thankful for it.”
Both players were somewhat starstruck on Monday, as they found themselves sharing the court with some of the best in the nation – including Jayson Castro, the Gilas veteran who has been twice named best point guard in Asia.
“Nanginginig pa ako kanina, kasi mga idol ko ‘yung kasama ko eh,” said Desiderio. “Naninibago pa ako. Sa next practice, sana maka-adjust na ako.”
“It’s a dream come true to be playing with them. It’s really overwhelming,” said Gomez de Liaño, who met his idols, Castro and Gabe Norwood, for the first time during practice.
Of course, there is no certainty that either Fighting Maroon will make it to the final line-up for 2023. Reyes made no promises to the players, other than they will surely improve just by repeatedly practicing with the national team.
For both Desiderio and Gomez de Liaño , that is good enough.
“Malaking tulong ‘to sa pagpasok ko sa UAAP, kasi last year ko na rin,” said Desiderio, who is eyeing to lead the Fighting Maroons to the Final 4 in his final playing season.
“It’s exciting for UP’s future, since both of us were handpicked,” added Gomez de Liaño.
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