FTS Spotlight: More Than a Ballgame – When UP’s statement win became more than a stat

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dale De Jesus is an avid basketball fan. Her allegiances lie with the San Antonio Spurs, TNT KaTropa and, more importantly to this piece, the UP Fighting Maroons. She was going through a rough patch at work in the weeks leading up to the UP vs. DLSU game. Dale decided to leave a major life decision up to the basketball gods. I was with her the night before the game. I felt like in a week full of losses, all she needed was one, big win.

More Than a Ballgame – When UP’s statement win became more than a stat

Written by Dale De Jesus

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I have been a devoted fan of the UAAP since early 2000s and have also been a witness to UP’s mostly downhill path. I became even more familiar with our basketball program when I entered the university in 2007. However, it wasn’t basketball that captured my interest during my time in college. It was the Cheer Dance Competition that held more significance in my college life.

After graduation, I decided to rekindle my on-and-off again relationship with the Maroons. It still l hasn’t been easy because of the rollercoaster nature of the team. But that hasn’t deterred me from cheering for the Fighting Maroons, win or lose.

Entering the game against the DLSU Green Archers, it seemed as if the result of the game was already predetermined. The stats and roster line-up were not smiling upon the young Maroons. The Green Archers were stacked and welcomed back last year’s  MVP, Ben Mbala from a monster stint in FIBA Afrobasket. History was not on UP’s side as the Fighting Maroons haven’t beaten the Green Archers in three seasons.

The UP community was not hopeful. Myself included.

In the week leading up to the game, my career took a plunge and all hell in my life broke loose. The days before the game were one of the worst in my professional life.

The stress at work had me crying in my cubicle on September 20. I submitted my resignation letter on September 21. My boss and I talked about my future in the company on September 22. She gave me the weekend to reconsider my resignation.

Before I left that Friday evening, friends from the office were checking up on me, making sure that I don’t do anything with finality. I just shrugged and said, “Sige, pag nanalo UP against Mbala and La Salle…” I trailed off knowing that this bet, or joke, won’t really matter.

Little did I know that the basketball gods had something else in mind.

Game day came and I tuned in with no intention of putting my final decision about work solely on this game. That would be irrational. But fandom, passion, and love are almost always irrational. At the back of my head, this game will be my sign.

Ben Mbala, showing off his newfound range, hit four three-pointers in the first quarter. I started drifting away from the game with every three-pointer that fell through the net. I didn’t need any more reminders how good the defending champs were. In between timeouts, it felt like a good time to tell my sister what’s been happening at work. Tears started to fall again. She reminded me of the things I loved about advertising. She made me enumerate all the pros versus the negligible cons. She then asked me  the million peso question: Do you still like what you’re doing?

The second quarter rolled along and I was still lost in thought. As lost as our point guards trying to cross half court and fend off Coach Aldin Ayo’s chaotic full court press. I still liked the creative industry, and for the most part, I loved being a creative manager. But I had so many things I need to learn to survive and to thrive. I needed to believe in myself more and not let outside forces tell me otherwise.

Fortunately, The Fighting Maroons mirrored my will to fight back. They took control of the game late in the second quarter and were able to build a lead heading into halftime. At that point, I was leaning more on withdrawing my resignation.

I was finally able to focus on the game by third quarter and as soon as I focused on the game again, Paul Desiderio  happened. I thought to myself, “Is this for real?” UP didn’t only build a two possession lead. They were actually holding steady against the Goliaths of college ball. I was so pumped to start the last quarter.

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During the last five minutes, UP was still committing costly turnovers. I knew that no lead or momentum is safe against DLSU. It became more apparent to me that more than anything, I was cheering them on for my own sake.

“Kapit lang, guys! Kapit!” I was asking them to hold on to whatever this thing is that’s keeping us in the game, and perhaps, I was screaming at myself, too. “Kapit lang, Dale! Kapit.” If they pull this off, maybe the universe is on my side after all.

My heart fell every time the whistle was blown on the baseline. That pesky Mayhem Defense had me on the edge of my seat. My doubts slowly melted as the Fighting Maroons lived up to their name in the end game. Jan Jaboneta drained two triples, Jun Manzo scored five straight points, and Desiderio proved steady from the free throw line.

Finally the buzzer sounded. UP won! UP won by 11! UP won by 11 against DLSU!

I was in tears. I was jumping like crazy.

“This is your sign! This is your sign,” my sister shouted.

I am still reeling from so many emotions even days after the win.

I withdrew my resignation and replaced it with a resolution to be braver, stronger.

Matatapang, matatalino

Walang takot, kahit kanino

If these boys can believe in themselves in spite of  all kinds of adversity thrown at them, then it’s high time for me to do the same. These student athletes are younger than me yet they’ve shown me grit, resilience, and grace under pressure. They held on until the very end, against one of the best teams in the history of the UAAP.

I almost turned my back at a career that has given me so much just because I got burned out. The UP Fighting Maroons have been burned many times over. They’ve suffered winless seasons, record losing streaks and memes. You name it and they’ve probably faced it.

Yet here they are now, atop the standings and the talk of the town. They all believed in themselves first and made believers out of us. They made a believer out of me.

In work and in life, bilog ang bola. It’s ultimately in our hands what we do with it.

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