By Karlitos Brian Decena
Due to losses amassed by their basketball team in the past, some students from the University of the Philippines have come to expect little from the Fighting Maroons every time the collegiate basketball season opens.
One of them is senior journalism student Ro Taningco, who always has one simple wish for the team every year.
” Kahit isang panalo lang, masaya na ako,” Taningco said.
Unfortunately, his hopes were shattered twice. The Maroons finished the tournament winless in two seasons, first in 2007, and again in 2010.
And Taningco believes these won’t be the last.
Over the past 25 years, the UP Fighting Maroons have consistently stayed at the tail end of the basketball standings, making it to the final four only twice — in 1996 and 1997 — since its 1986 title run.
The 2000s was a forgettable era for the Maroons, who won only 41 of their 154 games across the decade.
The closest the team got to a final four stint were in 2004 and 2005, when the team finished fifth in the tournament.
Former Fighting Maroon Martin Reyes remembers clearly what happened after his last game wearing a UP jersey – a loss that marked the second 0-14 finish in Fighting Maroons history.
“Everyone was down. You could see my teammates crying,” Reyes said when asked how the team reacted to the loss. “It really sucked.”
One of the reasons behind the dismal performance of the Maroons was the lack of continuity in the UP basketball program, former Fighting Maroons team manager Tessa Jazmines said.
“Our coach is appointed yearly, so it’s very hard to find continuity,” said Jazmines, who managed the team from 1992 to 1996. She recalled that it took three years for Coach Joe Lipa to form the Maroons championship team in 1986.
After the historic title run, Jazmines said the Maroons changed coaches from time to time due to various reasons, despite the team’s good performance.
“Right after (Eric) Altamirano brought us back to the final four, (teams from the) PBA were so amazed with him that they hired him,” said Jazmines, a journalism professor at the College of Mass Communication. “His program, that was supposedly five years long, was shortened to one year.”
Just last year, the Maroons figured in a coaching mess as then coach Aboy Castro resigned just two games into the season. He was replaced by Boyet Fernandez, who failed to steer the team to even just one victory.
“Medyo mabigat sa mga bata yun,” Reyes said about the coaching change.
Meanwhile, basketball historian and UP alumnus Jay Mercado said money has always been a problem for the only state-run university among the UAAP schools.
Jazmines also said money is crucial in attracting recruits to play for the Maroons.
“If you want to go to the communities and find talent of some sort, you have to have funding,” Jazmines said.
Jazmines and Mercado also believe that aside from the lack of funds, the Maroons are also affected by the politics within the team’s administration.
“We, in UP, are all on our own. We all think we are great. (That is) why there are many factions in UP,” Jazmines said.
Mercado, meanwhile, said there should be only one person calling the shots in the team. “Our problem is that we just have too many cooks – daming nakikialam.”
“Get a godfather. Let him take control of things,” he added.
Asked for response about the issues on the administration of the team, College of Human Kinetics Dean Leilanie Gonzalo, UP’s representative to the UAAP board, refused to give any comments.
However, newly tapped coach Ricky Dandan remains optimistic about the Maroons’ chances this season.
“The UP community can expect a hard fighting Maroons this year,” Dandan said. “We will look at things on a per game basis, we are trying to learn how to win again and know what it takes to win.”
Guard Mike Silungan agreed: “I think we have a very good chance, as long as we work hard.”
Reyes, meanwhile, has a piece of advice for this year’s Maroons: “They just need the hunger, desire and heart of a Fighting Maroon.”
Despite the dismal showing of the Maroons during his stay with the team, Reyes said playing for UP was still worth remembering.
“Winning was really important, but my whole journey as a Maroon made everything worthwhile,” Reyes said.
Meanwhile, Taningco still does not lose hope and just took the losses as a motivation.
“It just made tasting a win more valuable,” Taningco said.