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Former King Maroon Manuel "really really really really happy" to see current UP "special group" make Final Four

Paul Desiderio waves his towel to the UP fans after his team clinched a UAAP Final Four spot for the first time since 1997. Rick Dela Cruz
By Ivan Saldajeno

QUEZON CITY--In Jett Manuel's final year, the University of the Philippines came just short of making the Final Four of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines men's basketball tournament.

But with the core of last year's lineup now being joined by Bright Akhuetie, the Fighting Maroons finally ended 21 years of frustration and barged into the semifinals with a rout of the De La Salle Green Archers.

While the "Gin-gineer" found it somewhat bittersweet as UP had to beat the team of his younger brother Joaqui to seal the third seed in the UAAP playoffs, Jett is happy to see his former college teammates accomplish the goal he set last season.

"Everything just came together finally this year [for] this special group," the older Manuel said on Wednesday night, hours after the Maroons clinched the Final Four spot.

While many fans somehow did not see UP sneaking into the next round during the preseason coming, Manuel already anticipated the said feat considering how loaded the team is even if Ricci Rivero and Kobe Paras are still redshirting for this season.

"In all the interviews that I got before the season--all the guesting and the sports analyzing jobs--I said that UP deserves to be there just because of the talent. I think I just felt that it was really this time that they deserve to be in the Final Four," continued Manuel, who is now doing analyst work for S+A's National Collegiate Athletic Association coverage and the afternoon online program The Score.

Manuel had to monitor the UP-La Salle game while Ginebra is doing its warm-up for Game 3 of the PBA Governors' Cup semifinals against Magnolia at the Smart Araneta Coliseum here, some miles away from the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, where the UAAP game was being held.

"Di na nga ako nag-pregame shooting para mapanood ko yung game," he admitted.

Him "secretly following" the crucial Fighting Maroons-Green Archers showdown may have come at a price as Coach Tim Cone did not insert him in the entirety of the Barangay-Hotshots clash.

"We won naman eh, so OK lang. Coach Tim will forgive me," Manuel further said.

Add to that, Ginebra held off Magnolia to stay alive in the PBA semis.

"I'm sad I wasn't there in person. At least, I got the win here today," Manuel added.

The thing remains: UP is back in the Final Four.

"I'm just really really really really happy for the whole UP community, myself, and all the players that have been to the program," he quipped.

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno