Jett Manuel and the UP Fighting Maroons braved through a turbulent UAAP season where things happened in their favor or against — right until the final moment.
On the court, the Fighting Maroons endured a roller-coaster ride squandering big leads in crucial games in the early part of the season proving that the team is still a work-in-progress at the hands of their new mentor, Bo Perasol.
Those crucial games could have been their ticket to the Final Four had it gone the other way around. However, fate seems elusive for them. They won some, but lost more. They ended the first round with a dismal 1-6 card.
But for team captain Jett Manuel, they were not yet thinking of the Final Four during that time. Rather, they just wanted to prove themselves. He said they want to experience the feeling of a winner again.
“Looking back, I know we could have done better and come out with more wins but that’s basketball,” Manuel told Sports Illustrated Philippines.
Manuel also noted that the whole first round dilemma never affected UP’s will to win. It even made them stronger.
“We learned from our loses and experienced these things together that made us even stronger during the second round,” Manuel said.
True enough, the Fighting Maroons unleashed their impeccable fighting form in the second round as they crawled back to life and posted an impressive 4-2 record.
The successive wins were not enough, though.
After a victory against National University, the Maroons’ Final Four hopes were very much alive. They, however, remained tenuous as Adamson University finally booked the final ticket to the semi-final round after demolishing last year’s bridesmaid finisher, University of Sto. Tomas, in a rather heartbreaking fashion, 76-61.
Adamson completed the Final Four cast along with De La Salle University, Far Eastern University and Ateneo de Manila University.
Manuel, who averages a team-best 15.8 points, 4.3 boards and 2.6 assists per game, is one of the vital cog in the Fighting Maroons Season 79 campaign — leading the team to an amazing 5-8 win-loss card, a feat UP has not achieved since 2005.
This snap of reality is yet another setback for the Fighting Maroons to carry and be a better team next season. Manuel noted that the team is happy because they were able to achieve their goal — to make the UP community proud again.
“They (UP community) have been there supporting us and cheering their lungs out,” he said. “We do our best every game to win for them.”
Last game as a Maroon
Manuel is set to close the curtains on his UAAP career in a bittersweet fashion with a game against University of the East on Sunday. He will be joined by fellow graduating players, Henry Asilum and Dave Moralde, in what Manuel describes as “emotional” game for them.
“I’m just going to take it all in, every second, ever emotion, every shot, every pass, every high five from my teammates,” he said.
He added that this last game will also be dedicated to the UP faithful for “being the best crowd there is.”
“It was an honor for me to serve UP the best way I could and to wear UP on my chest and represent the best school ever,” he said. “We will do our best to win.”
Manuel’s only wish to the UP faithful is to continuously support the Fighting Maroons even after he graduates.
With still a few days before his last UAAP game donning the Maroon jersey, Manuel just can’t help but feel sentimental about it.
“I have a lot of mixed emotions,” he began. “I’m a bit sentimental but for the most part I am happy, happy that we achieved more than what we set out to do as a team from the start of the season.”
Manuel, who became the face of UP basketball’s resurgence, admitted that the thought of leaving the team is painful but life goes on for him and for his teammates. He said he wants his teammate to remember him as the captain who led and jumpstarted the UP basketball program to its lost glory.
“I want them to remember me as the dude that genuinely cared for them and the team,” Manuel said. “The person who wanted them to realize how good we actually could be when we play as a team.”
What’s next after UAAP
Despite a heartbreaking season that ended his collegiate career, Manuel is nothing but full of gratefulness for the team that trusted his talents.
“I am very happy that we achieved more than what we set out to do as a team from the start of the season,” he said. “I think that is contentment for me.”
A civil engineering degree holder, Manuel said that after UAAP he will prioritize getting his civil engineering license.
“I missed this year’s board exam in order to play in the UAAP,” he said. “I will take it in May, and hopefully get my license.”
Manuel, however, does not want to close the doors of playing professional basketball. In fact, the 23-year-old Manuel was initially part of the PBA Rookie draft list but opted to withdraw to focus on his UAAP stint.
He admitted that it was not an easy decision and he felt disappointed. But for him all things happen for a reason and that there are still brighter things ahead of him.
Manuel even looks forward for an opportunity to don the national team colors, which is for him is his ultimate dream.
“Let’s see how far I can go with my basketball career, if it takes me to the PBA or Gilas, then why not?” he said.
Whether or not Manuel made a name for himself in the UAAP, what matters most to him is that he proved that the Maroons can be a force to be reckoned with in the basketball spectrum.
The Maroons might have failed to enter the Final Four this season but in Manuel’s very own words: “We will get there.”
Sports Illustrated Philippines