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Daring to hope

/ 05:26 AM November 30, 2018

One of UP’s popular slogans is “Mangahas makibaka, mangahas magtagumpay” (Dare to struggle, dare to win).

That slogan kept coming to my mind during the recent UP men’s basketball team’s games in the UAAP. For the first time in 21 years, we won a game to qualify for the Final Four, meaning the semifinals. Then, in the last week, we beat Adamson twice—both cliffhanger games—to break our 31-year-old “exempted from finals” curse. In the week to come, we will be playing against Ateneo for a “best of three” series toward the championship.

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You have to first dare to struggle before you can dare to win. But even more importantly, you can’t dare to struggle if you don’t dare to hope.

Over a victory dinner for our making it to the Final Four, one of our biggest supporters, Robina Gokongwei, told me about how, for years, she and her classmates from the UP School of Economics would make sure to attend the games, always finding the stadium practically empty of UP fans, and then sitting through a dismal game ending in defeat.

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But she and her “team” kept on with attending the games and raising money for the team, because she dared to hope.

A turning point came in 2014 when several alumni—Renan Dalisay, Taipan Millan, to name just two—began a “conspiracy” to build alumni support. They called their group nowheretogobutup, at once referring both to being at the bottom of the cellar in the basketball rankings and the hope that, one day, it would mean nowhere to go but UP. The alumni came in, slowly but surely, cutting across class, ideology, fraternity affiliations, to support not just the men’s basketball team but also all the varsity players.

It was my good fortune that the year 2014 was my first as chancellor, so the new alumni support group, which quickly joined forces with Robina, was heaven-sent. There are too many individual and corporate supporters to mention here.

Few people are aware of another “heaven-sent” bounty. That year, 2014, Fo Guang Shan, a Taiwanese Buddhist group with temples in the Philippines, asked through my father if I was interested in getting UP’s team to compete in their international tournament. I was honest, telling them our team was weak, but the Buddhist group clearly dared to hope. When the team and I got to Taiwan, we were all aghast: The competitors from East Asian countries towered above them, but UP won two games—enough, it seems, to have emboldened them.

When they got back for the UAAP season, they won their first game in two years.

That’s when we had our bonfire and people said UP was OA (overacting). “Sus,” they scoffed, “one victory only?” And I muttered, “We’ll show you yet when we become champions.”

We all dared to hope for our varsity teams, but knew we had to pour in all kinds of resources, not just financial. We recruited faculty to help with the athletes’ academic needs; with so much time put into practice, they still had to meet UP’s rigid standards. They needed strong but nurturing coaches, and Bo Perasol, a graduate of UP and a Fighting Maroon himself, was heaven-sent, too.

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There was much more that went into the processes so the team could learn to build strategies and tactics, team collegiality and team leadership. Most importantly, the teams needed to change their mindset, to believe they were not just good but very good, and that they could win.

I’ve seen all that develop through the years, including three who were just starting to play in 2014. One of them was Paul Desiderio, who had spurned more tempting offers from other schools to play with them. He wanted UP, he loved UP. Those of you who follow the games have seen him living up to being captain, leading his “16 Strong” team, a name he coined.

Gone are the days of individual showing off and fumbling and lame attempts at long shots.  Our team has learned to hope, to struggle, and to shoot to win.

We’re still daring, and raring to win the championship. But even if we end up second, there’s more than enough reason to be thankful, and hopeful.

Amid the roaring crowds’ cheering, I did think that it’s time now to dare to hope that the new spirit rising with our varsity teams and varsity support will help to counter the arrogance and barbarism that have been creeping into the university.

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