No more waterfalls: the Maroons get a new court

The UP Gym Annex, the new practice facility of the Maroons.

For the past 30 years, the UP Fighting Maroons have practiced in the basketball court of the cavernous College of Human Kinetics, where they have trained alongside other UP varsity teams in what often made for a chaotic and noisy scene.

It’s a set-up that’s flawed in so many ways.

For instance, until recently, before someone finally thought of putting up a huge net, the basketball varsity had to contend with wayward spikes from the varsity volleyball teams practicing at the other end of the gym. Then there was also the constant noise from the Pep Squad, whose drummers would pound away almost non-stop every night.

Remember this Nike ad from a few years ago that featured Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Wayne Rooney and Ronaldhino all training at the same time? It wouldn’t be a total surprise if the UP gym was the inspiration for the ad.

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Aside from the distractions, players had to deal with a leaky roof that produced multiple wet spots on the floor. The court was one big knee injury waiting to happen whenever there was a downpour.

“There were waterfalls whenever it rained,” was how one former player once described it.

To top it off, the court itself didn’t have standard measurements. The free throw line was short of 15 feet by several inches, while one of the rims wasn’t exactly at the standard 10 feet.

The new gym

It took three decades, but finally, all these problems will be a thing of the past. Last June 15, in the presence of former, current, and possibly future Maroons, university officials and team supporters, a new basketball facility was formally inaugurated.

Built adjacent to the CHK, its official name is the UP CHK Annex, and it will serve as the new practice area of the Maroons. Actual construction began almost 10 years ago, but only the roof and a cement floor were finished after funds dried up. Through the efforts of the current CHK and UP administrations, sponsors were tapped to finally complete the project.

“Although it was intended to be a basketball court, it was used as a multi-activity center as part of the facilities development of the College of Human Kinetics,” says CHK dean Ronnie Dizer.  “It took the initiative of the UP Alumni Association to complete this by soliciting donations. It was made possible through the efforts of Congressman Sonny Belmonte.”

Members of the 1986 champion team: Primo Rodriguez, Jig Mendoza, Ronnie Magsanoc, Joey Guanio, and Benjie Para …

Such a long wait deserved an elaborate ceremony, so members of UP’s only title team of 1986 were invited to grace the opening. Together under one roof for the first time since 1994, when they were all part the Shell team in the PBA, were Coach Joe Lipa, Eric Altamirano, Joey Guanio, Ronnie Magsanoc and Benjie Paras.

Also present were other ex-Maroons like Primo Rodriguez, Patrick Aquino, Tata Marata and Lito Vergara. Members of Lipa’s first UP team from 1981, namely Mon Celis, Vincent Albano and Randolph Avenido, were also there.

Exhibition games

Kicking off the afternoon affair was an exhibition game between the UPIS varsity team coached by Allan Gregorio and a UPIS alumni team made up of the core of the 2002 team that captured UPIS’s first UAAP juniors crown and coached by Lito Vergara. The alumni team, which was led by former Maroons Marvin Cruz and Jacob Manlapaz, came from behind to beat the youngsters, 55-51.

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Afterwards, the formal inauguration took place, with UP President Alfredo Pascual welcoming the guests and acknowledging all the entities that chipped in to complete the constructions: Robina Gokongwei, whose many companies adorn the walls and flooring of the CHK annex, the MVP Foundation, and the Alpha Sigma fraternity among others.

Former UP coach Joe Lipa and ex-Maroon point guard Eric Altamirano.

Then it was on to the main event of the afternoon: the Fighting Maroons versus the PBA’s GlobalPort Batang Pier. No one really expected the Maroons to beat a PBA team, even a PBA team that's more or less UP’s counterpart in the pros with only three wins to show this season. And even thought the Batang Pier were missing ace guard Gary David and new acquisition Jay Washington, and their coach, Junel Baculi, was obviously using the game to test a hodgepodge of free agents who were vying for slots on the roster, they were tipped to win this game easily.

But midway through the third period, the scoreboard read 60-all, as Joseph Marata, on his way to a team-high 28 points, was doing his best to keep the Maroons in the game. The Batang Pier, though, buckled down to work and uncorked a 17-0 bomb that ultimately paved the way for a 94-79 win.

The result, while not surprising, still came as a bit of a disappointment to head coach Ricky Dandan.

“We weren’t expecting to beat a PBA team, but I wish we had been stronger with the ball,” he rued.

Meanwhile, the players took their lumps after they were subjected to several veteran moves by the pros. Point guard Mikee Reyes simply tweeted, “Iba talaga ang PBA,” and went on to describe how sore he felt after running into an Alex Crisano screen. Another player marveled at Willie Miller’s ability to smile throughout an entire possession and then nonchalantly bury a jumper with just seconds left on the shot clock.

‘No more waterfalls’

The new court may not immediately translate into wins this season for UP, but at least they can now practice in peace with no fear of slipping on a wet spot on the floor or getting hit by a volleyball.

The building is a no-frills outfit and admittedly pales in comparison to, say, Ateneo’s Moro Lorenzo building or UST’s own practice facility. Its low ceiling makes it even hotter than the old CHK court, dust easily gathers on the hardwood, and there are hardly any bleachers for spectators. Plus the only lights in place are along the sides; this being a government institution, lighting for the area above the court is still undergoing bidding.

But the court itself is already a marked improvement, plus the only water you’ll see pouring down here is in the shower room.

“Wow! No more waterfalls!” was how one friend of the team reacted after seeing a photo of the court online, in reference to the “waterfalls” inside the old gym that materialized whenever there was a strong downpour.

The start of something big

If plans don’t miscarry, this new CHK annex could be just the tip of the iceberg. More facilities have been earmarked for construction to create a fully functional sports complex in Diliman.

“We are recognized regionally and globally in the field of sports science,’’ Dizer noted. “But we need the proper facilities to complement this expertise.”

Having secured enough funding from various private and public sources, Dizer revealed that among the other projects in CHK’s pipeline are the construction of an Olympic-size swimming pool, the installation of an artificial turf in the university’s football field, the complete renovation of the athletic oval and grandstand, and the construction of a new baseball field.

“It will be a complete sports complex,” he says.

For UP’s long-suffering fans, this could really be the start of something big.

Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.