By DR. JUN YNARES, M.D.
By the time we go to press, the first game of the finals in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 81 would have already been played and a Game 1 winner would have emerged.
We would have wished that the finals were a Green-versus-Blue affair. The Taft-based squad did not make it past the semis, and this year’s finale pit instead the two teams from Katipunan – the University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons and the Ateneo Blue Eagles. Yes, it is battle between Maroon and Blue and the UP community appears to have come out in numbers not seen since their school bagged the championship 32 years ago.
We watched the season from the sidelines and our view is that the road to the final four had been seen some of the best hard-court battles ever in the league. Basketball fans, both those from the old and aging alumni category and the millennial bunch, will agree that some of the best games this season were won by individual and team heroics.
The “heroism” of some of these young ballers outside the hard-court are worth appreciating. My basketball-enthusiast friends have drawn up their list of this UAAP season’s list of “heroes” and we agree with most of them.
Here are some of the names of those who made it to their list of outside-of-the-court “heroes.”
DLSU: Justine Baltazar, Aljun Melecio, and Santi Santillan. UP: Diego Dario, Jun Manzo, and Paul Desiderio.
According to our colleagues, DLSU’s big man Baltazar comes from an underprivileged family from Pampanga. He had lost both parents and struggled against poverty most of his life. He was given a break when he was allowed to suit up for the National University juniors squad. His determination to rise above the hardships of life pushed him to practice hard, level up his skills, and earn the privilege of wearing the green jersey.
Melecio is perhaps one of the littlest guys in the current league and also one with the highest shooting percentages, particularly from rainbow territory. The impressive stats, we are told, are the product of dedicating hours of solo practice. While his peers would be doing the fun things young people like, he would be in the gym perfecting his shots.
Santillan’s video teary-eyed in the post-game singing of the alma mater song went viral a few weeks ago. The story behind the image: The young player was missing his family. Here is a kid making the sacrifice to make his dream come true. The dream is so powerful that Santi had reportedly asked for the help of a fellow UV player – UP’s Paul Desiderio – to help him find a team in Manila.
Like DLSU’s Melecio, UP’s Diego Dario is also knows in collegiate sports circles for serious, beyond-what-is-required solo practices. He does not have the height advantage but makes his mark in a game of big guys. Diego apparently lost a parent some four years ago and is therefore playing with a sad heart. The grief seems to serve as fuel for his game.
Desiderio and Manzo, we were told, are both recruits from Cebu, having played standout games for the University of the Visayas Lancers during their high school days. Together with UP’s other prized recruits – the Gomez de Liano brothers and Bright Akhuetie – Desiderio and Manzo are part of the squad’s scoring machine. He has become synonymous with the now-famous UP battlecry “Atin ‘to.”
To be part of UP’s UAAP Finals dream, Desiderio has reportedly decided to shelve plans of joining this year’s PBA draft.
Desiderio’s dream of making it into the big league in Manila was something he shared with fellow Cebuano Jun Manzo. Both left their former school, endured the pain of being away from loved ones, to be part of UP’s historic climb to the 2018 UAAP finals.
This is by no means a complete list of on-and-off-court “heroes” in the collegiate league. The names here are of those whose vignettes about their off-court heroism have been shared among friends.
The fact is each of them is a hero in his own right – in the manner that their generation defines “hero.”
To them, a hero is one who is willing to do everything to fulfill a powerful personal dream.
The determined pursuit of that dream by a young hero inspires others to pursue their own.
The young hero serves as model and constant reminder that they have what it takes to reach a goal, to fulfill a dream, to make an aspiration come true.
That definition of “hero” has not changed. For centuries, many young Filipinos gave up many precious things in their lives to pursue powerful dreams.
One of them was born in November 30, 1863. His name: Andres Bonifacio, Supremo of the Katipunan and Father of the Philippine Revolution.
Bonifacio was in his mid-20s when he began to involve himself in the activities that would lead to the uprising against the colonial government.
He was 33 when he died, the victim of an unjust persecution at the hands of those who saw him as a threat to their political agenda.
Bonifacio’s story is no different from those of today’s young people. His life proved that dreams are what give meaning to every life’s many battles.
Young people are finding heroes in the collegiate league.
We hope they never forget the many young Bonifacios whose heroism goes beyond the search for an elusive championship.
We wish all the heroes of the classic Maroon-versus-Blue match all the best.
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