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'CASH MONEY!' | UP is now already up there

Katipunan Avenue is "Championship Highway" for 2022, but UP's title reign would be remembered more in the years to come. UAAP Season 84 Media Team (file photo)
By Ivan Saldajeno

ONCE upon a time, University of the Philippines students, alumni, and fans flocked to its Quezon City campus' iconic Sunken Garden to put up a bonfire party for a 1-13 season.

Sounds weird, but for them, snapping a long winless spell is a cause for celebration as if they won a championship.

Fast forward to May 14, 2022, UP Diliman threw another bonfire party again.

This time, though, there was no 1-13 season to "glorify", but there was a real championship to celebrate.

All it took was one buzzer-beater.

The night before, JD Cagulangan made good use of a Malick Diouf pick and found himself wide open for a stepback triple with less than a second remaining.

"Cash... money!" as how Nikko Ramos announced the conversion of the shot in the TV5 broadcast.

That shot was heard not just on other UP campuses but in the entire country as one of the longest active title droughts in UAAP men's basketball history came to an end.

After 35 seasons (the totally canceled Season 83 included) in 36 years, the Fighting Maroons completed their turnaround from a moribund squad to UAAP champions, beating the Ateneo Blue Eagles in that classic Game 3 overtime thriller last summer thanks to that Cagulangan game-winner.

The championship also sealed the Nowhere to Go But UP Foundation's legacy as the catalyst behind putting an end to UP's dark days.

Since the backer group's entry into the fold after that winless run, the Fighting Maroons made a gradual route to becoming Final 4 contenders, which we can call the "Atin 'To" movement.

Eventually, they made the Final 4 four straight times, making the finals on three of those occasions, and then finally winning the chip in Season 84.

However, it took one major coaching change to make it possible.

When Goldwin Monteverde was signed up to replace Bo Perasol, who would become UP's de facto program director, as head coach, many were curious if he can translate his success in the high school ranks to a higher level of basketball.

After all, his short stint in the pro ranks as Batangas City Athletics coach in the MPBL was not that good.

However, Monteverde proved the doubters wrong, lifting the Fighting Maroons to the second seed, especially with his expertise on how to close out games.

The clutchness was once again of good use in the playoffs, eliminating the De La Salle Green Archers in the Final 4 with an epic finale in their knockout game and dethroning the Blue Eagles with a late overtime comeback capped by Cagulangan's dagger.

Also to be credited is how the roster was built.

UP secured the transfer of Diouf and Cagulangan and successfully recruited some of Monteverde's former key players at Nazareth School of National University, Carl Tamayo, Gerry Abadiano, and Terrence Fortea as well as high-flying two-and-through forward Zav Lucero.

With leaders Ricci Rivero and Noah Webb playing their final year, it became their mission to end their amateur campaign with the gold, and their leadership proved vital in the championship run—all the more when some thought Rivero's absence and the loss of Lucero due to a suspected ACL injury were felt when Ateneo got back at them last Christmas to reclaim the title.

While the Blue Eagles will end 2022 as champions, the Fighting Maroons' summer title is the more memorable arguably.

It may have been a short reign—the shortest calendar year UAAP championship run actually—but it sure was a fun one.

NTGBUP's mission is now successful: UP is now already up there.

PS: Some other UP campuses like in Los BaƱos also held a bonfire party to celebrate the Diliman campus' championship.

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno

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