Robina Gokong­wei-Pe & Deb­bie Tan: Fairy god­moth­ers of UP, Ate­neo

The Philippine Star - - FRONT PAGE - sport­ing chance JOAQUIN HeNsON

On the side­lines of the re­cent UAAP men’s bas­ket­ball Fi­nals be­tween Ate­neo and UP, two ladies — call them fairy god­moth­ers— stood out for their pas­sion in sup­port­ing the schools where they spent some of the best years of their col­lege lives. Robina Gokong­weiPe took up eco­nomics in three years at the State Univer­sity be­fore fin­ish­ing with a jour­nal­ism de­gree at New York Univer­sity while Deb­bie Tan earned an in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary stud­ies diploma in four years at the Loy­ola cam­pus. They were years apart as stu­dents but shared a com­mon bond, both grad­u­at­ing from high school at Im­mac­u­late Con­cep­tion Academy.

The STAR caught up with Robina and Deb­bie af­ter Ate­neo roared to its sec­ond straight ti­tle, sweep­ing the Fight­ing Ma­roons in the best-of-three Fi­nals. Al­though

UP failed to nail a win in the Last Dance, ad­vanc­ing to the play­offs was a mile­stone as it was the Ma­roons’ first Fi­nal Four ap­pear­ance in 21 years. And for the Ea­gles, win­ning two ti­tles in a row un­der coach Tab Bald­win sparked spec­u­la­tion of the dawn­ing of an­other Blue dy­nasty.

PHILIP­PINE STAR: What’s your role with the team?

ROBINA GOKONG­WEI-PE:

I’m UP’s long­est-run­ning sup­porter. I’m very proud that I’ve stayed on since 2010 through two 0-14 sea­sons and only six wins over the last five years. I’m still here. When we reached the Fi­nal Four this sea­son, I was deliri­ously happy and when we made it to the Fi­nals, I al­most flipped. But I’m not alone in back­ing the team. We’re a group made up of Jon­vic Remulla, Ariel Lac­samana, Cather­ine Tiu-Tan, Vin­cent Go, Re­nan Dal­isay, J.J. Aten­cio, Ags Uvero and the Nowhere To Go But UP Foun­da­tion.

DEB­BIE TAN: I’m the team dis­ci­plinar­ian. I scold the play­ers, lay down the rules but also feed and take care of them. I fit all the mother de­scrip­tions. I’ve been with the team since 2008 and we’ve won seven cham­pi­onships. I think that’s not a bad bat­ting av­er­age.

If there was one per­son whose hair you would’ve liked to pull dur­ing the Fi­nals, who would that be?

DEB­BIE: Juan Gomez de Liano be­cause he has so much hair to pull.

ROBINA: That never crossed my mind.

How high did your blood pres­sure go?

ROBINA: I don’t know about my blood pres­sure but there were times when I think my heart stopped and my stom­ach turned over.

DEB­BIE: I’m sure it went through the roof. I’m so in­vested in our team.

When you were in school, did you ever imag­ine you would some­day be in­volved with the team?

DEB­BIE: The four years I spent at Ate­neo made such a dif­fer­ence in my life. By the way, I earned my MBA at UP. Since I was eight or nine, I fell in love with bas­ket­ball. I used to watch Bill Rus­sell and the Bos­ton Celtics on the Armed Forces TV chan­nel years ago, then I be­came a Magic John­son fan. With Magic, I saw how a beau­ti­ful pass can be more ex­cit­ing than a dunk. I love the game be­cause of the thrill of watch­ing five play­ers on the floor op­er­at­ing as one.

ROBINA: I was a sports­writer with the Philip­pine Col­le­gian and joined the UP var­sity swim­ming team for a year but I don’t re­mem­ber ever jump­ing into the wa­ter. I was Team A bangko at UP be­cause we had so many out­stand­ing swim­mers with the var­sity. My high school coach was the same as my col­lege coach. But while I was a Team A reg­u­lar swim­mer in high school, I wasn’t in col­lege. I’ve al­ways en­joyed sports and I love UP, so sup­port­ing our bas­ket­ball team came nat­u­rally.

Who’s the one player on the other side you would’ve wanted to play on your team?

ROBINA: Isaac Go be­cause he takes his school­work and sports se­ri­ously.

DEB­BIE: Paul Desiderio.

What’s the one thing about your team you’re most im­pressed with?

DEB­BIE: Open­ness to crit­i­cism. Dur­ing view­ing ses­sions, when Coach Tab lec­tures, mis­takes are pointed out and play­ers take it. No­body gets up­set, they know it’s for their own good.

ROBINA: Their ca­ma­raderie. They crack jokes, make fun of each other, they laugh to­gether. I think their bond­ing in Ser­bia made them closer. Ser­bia is known for its rigid bas­ket­ball train­ing so that ex­po­sure cre­ated a higher sense of dis­ci­pline and chem­istry.

What’s the last thing you told your team be­fore Game 2?

ROBINA: We got to­gether be­fore the Fi­nals for din­ner. What I tell the team is the same thing ev­ery year so I think it’s bor­ing. But I re­mem­ber in be­tween our 3-5 and 5-5 records, we gath­ered for din­ner and I told them to play as a team, to play for the UP com­mu­nity. I love UP and I love the UP com­mu­nity. It’s that love that I wanted to share with them.

DEB­BIE: Be­fore Game 2, I told the team to get it now, no more Game 3.

Did you ever doubt Ate­neo would re­peat af­ter los­ing the first game of the sea­son to Adam­son?

DEB­BIE: The loss to Adam­son was good for us, it shook us up. But I knew what the team was ca­pa­ble of, I never doubted them. Dur­ing the off­sea­son, we played against tough teams in Greece and our show­ing in the Jones Cup was im­pres­sive. I knew if we stayed fo­cused, we would win the cham­pi­onship. I knew if we just played our game, no­body could beat us.

With (hus­band) Perry Pe from La Salle, do you de­bate over which team is bet­ter at home?

ROBINA: When it comes to the UAAP, Perry is a hen­pecked hus­band.

Who’s the un­sung hero of your team?

DEB­BIE: Our team man­ager Epok Quimpo, he works be­hind the scenes and de­serves credit for ev­ery­thing he does.

ROBINA: Our cap­tain Paul is our hero but our un­sung hero is (Jan­jan) Jaboneta who’s a quiet, hard worker.

What’s the out­look for next sea­son?

ROBINA: I’m al­ways op­ti­mistic. Ev­ery year, I think we’ll get to the Fi­nal Four even when we were 0-14 in my first year with the team in 2010, even when we were 0-14 in 2013. That’s just the way I am. We’re los­ing five play­ers this year but we’re gain­ing Ricci Rivero and Kobe Paras next sea­son. I’ll be as op­ti­mistic as I’ve al­ways been. We’re ex­cited to move for­ward with Coach Bo (Pera­sol). We never ex­pe­ri­enced the cul­ture of win­ning un­til Coach Bo came. In the past, it was like we were des­tined to al­ways lose. Now, with Coach Bo and his staff, we’re show­ing con­fi­dence that we can win.

DEB­BIE: We’re fairly in­tact next year ex­cept we’re los­ing An­ton (Asis­tio). We’ve got play­ers in the pipe­line but the chal­lenge is to fill An­ton’s spot. Aca­demic­s­wise, I think we’re fine. Cop­ing with stud­ies and sports comes with great dif­fi­culty. I’m amazed how our stu­dent ath­letes do it. Some fans don’t re­al­ize how hard it is for play­ers to keep their spots be­cause they need to pass first of all. They go to class, then prac­tice from 6 to 9 p.m., study, do home­work then it’s back to class the next morn­ing. We try to help them with their stud­ies. We pro­vide tu­tors as nec­es­sary. It’s no pass, no play. We know bas­ket­ball is their am­bi­tion, their ca­reer, but we want them to ap­pre­ci­ate the value of a diploma. I at­tend ev­ery grad­u­a­tion of ev­ery player and it’s very grat­i­fy­ing. Now that the sea­son’s over, we’ll take a good rest. Last year, MVP (PLDT chair­man and Ate­neo bene­fac­tor Manny V. Pangili­nan) took the en­tire team to Hong Kong where he spent time with us. It’s spe­cial for the team to show our grat­i­tude to MVP.

DEB­BIE: I’m the team dis­ci­plinar­ian. I scold the play­ers, lay down the rules but also feed and take care of them. I fit all the mother de­scrip­tions. ROBINA: I don’t know about my blood pres­sure but there were times when I think my heart stopped and my stom­ach turned over.

Mighty mama-sans: Robina Gokong­wei-Pe and Deb­bie Tan

#UPNam­ingMa­hal #Ma­roonPride #Noway­to­gob­utUP

#OneBigFight #BEBOB

Blocks, steals and hus­sle are what made the games ex­cit­ing.

Photo from @goodlifebymb

Ate­neo coach Tab Bald­win with Blue Ea­gles sup­porter Manny Pangili­nan.

“UP coach Bo Pera­sol has fi­nally brought the UP mbt to the Fi­nal Four af­ter 21 years! In just three years, from 2016 to 2018, UP has al­ready won 19 games,” says Robina Gokong­wei.

Ate­nean Chris Tiu and his wife Clarisse with Deb­bie Tan: “Big con­grat­u­la­tions to coach Tab, coach Sandy and the rest of the coach­ing staff as well as Tita Deb­bie, Fr. Nemy (who pre­fer to work be­hind the scenes all these years) for rais­ing and de­vel­op­ing true cham­pi­ons on and off the court,” says Chris.

Chris, Berna Ro­mulo-Puyat and Robina

“Ate­neo won the game. But this guy @ pauldeside­rio won the hearts of all UP fans,” says Sen. Sonny An­gara with Sen., Migs Zu­biri.

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