The long journey and hard-won challenges of Coach Bo Perasol 2
Always on the ball: Perasol with his team. Photograph by Keith Jasper Magcaling

The long journey and hard-won challenges of Coach Bo Perasol

How this kid from South Cotabato propelled the UP Fighting Maroons to heights nobody thought possible
Josh Buenaventura | Dec 01 2018

He was just a kid from South Cotabato.

Nicknamed ‘Bo’ in honor of the Philippine revolutionary hero Andres Bonifacio with whom he shares a birthday, Dolreich Perasol’s first encounter with basketball was as early as 5 or 6 years old.

That was when, together with his basketball-loving father, he would listen to the voices in the radio, particularly the late Joe Cantada’s, call the PBA games. Being big Toyota fans back in the day, he recalls tuning in to the games from late afternoon all the way to when the games finish late in the evening.

His father also had a supply of Sports Weekly, which father and son would devour for its stories, statistics, and photographs. His dad’s love for the game, no doubt about it, had a great effect on the son.

Little did the young Perasol know that his future career would revolve around basketball.

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Perasol watching a game. "I had to show the sponsors and alumni that the UP players now are different from years past."  

The young Bo

Born on November 30, 1971, Bo is one of four siblings of Napoleon and Elizabeth Perasol. After spending his early years in South Cotabato, he went to General Santos City to attend high school before finding his way to the University of the Philippines.

Unlike many of today’s basketball stars and coaches on the sidelines, he was not highly recruited nor did he play spectacularly back in the day.

“I really didn’t think I was talented enough to play beyond the collegiate level,” shares the former PBA head coach before prepping his team for the UAAP Season 81 Finals. “During that time, basketball was purely participation only. Unlike today, the recruits were few and far between. If you really want to play, you can excel, but that does not necessarily mean you had to win. We won games, but that was the time when the league was dominated by names such as Johnny Abarrientos, Jun Limpot, and Dennis Espino. But for me and my teammates, our sole focus was our studies.”

Not many of Perasol’s peers went on to have careers in the sport. In his five years playing with UP, only three among his teammates pursued a career that revolves around basketball: Ryan Gregorio (Gilas Pilipinas Assistant Coach), Poch Juinio (former Alaska Aces player), and Pat Aquino (current National University Lady Bulldogs head coach).

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“I really didn’t think I was talented enough to play beyond the collegiate level,” says the coach on his early years in basketball.

“Some of my teammates back then went on to become a president of a bank, a consul general, a doctor, some lawyers, and businessmen. So you can see, the players back then did not rely purely on the sport for their careers afterwards. Maybe because UP was – is – still known for its education rather than its basketball program,” he adds.

Despite not planning a basketball career right after earning his degree in Broadcast Communication from UP, he was thrust into his first coaching job in no time, initially for the institution’s juniors basketball team, the University of the Philippines Integrated School Junior Maroons.

“I think the trigger point for my first coaching gig was that I felt my passion for teaching. It was not really for the details or intricacies inside the court, but more of what my experience can offer my players. That was when I first felt my desire to coach.”

After his UPIS days, he also served briefly as an assistant to the UP men’s basketball team in the mid 1990s before moving on to the Philippine Basketball League. He then became a head coach in the Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA), the home-and-away league that ran from 1998 to 2002. He spent two years there – first as head coach of the Surigao Miners before calling the shots for the famed Laguna Lakers.

Little did he know that the stint in Laguna would open doors for him in the future. When his contract with the MBA ended, the owners of the team brought him into the corporate world and hired him as the operations head for Federal Express in Laguna.

Half a decade went by before Fedex owner Bert Lina decided to buy a franchise in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). That team—then called Air 21 Express—went through a number of coaches before handing over the reigns to Coach Bo.

During the 2005-2006 PBA Fiesta Conference, Perasol led the team to its best finish, defeating powerhouse clubs San Miguel Beermen and the Talk N’ Text Phone Pals to set up a semi-final series with Purefoods. However, they were relegated to the battle for third place against Barangay Ginebra, which they won to end the season on a high note.

After four seasons with the Express, he moved to the Coca-Cola Tigers and served as Kenneth Duremdes’ assistant. He eventually took over the post when Duremdes ran for local office.

After being renamed the Powerade Tigers in 2010, Perasol would go on a remarkable run with his team following a great draft in 2011 where they would acquire the services of top prospects Jayvee Casio and Marcio Lassiter. They would team up with that team’s current star Gary David and complete one of the biggest upsets in PBA Finals history.

Facing a loaded B-Meg Llamados squad headed by then first year head coach Tim Cone, Bo would lead his team to an amazing upset over the twice-to-beat former Purefoods franchise. They then beat a Yeng Guiao-led Rain or Shine Elasto Painters team in seven games before losing in 5 games to Chot Reyes and his Talk N’ Text Squad in the 2012 Philippine Cup Finals.

That underdog performance in the PBA would eventually help him land the coveted head coaching job of the Ateneo Blue Eagles, which became vacant in 2013 after Norman Black took his talents back to the PBA.

Coach Bo and the Blue Eagles would struggle in their first season together, coming up with 7 wins and 7 losses, and missing out on the UAAP Final Four. They would redeem their record a year later, finishing with an 11-3 record and at the top of the standings. However, they would lose their twice-to-beat edge against a peaking National University Bulldogs that would end a 60-year championship drought in 2014.

His last year with Ateneo was in UAAP Season 78, where the Blue Eagles would lose via a buzzer beater putback care of FEU Tamaraw Mac Belo. That would mark Perasol’s exit from the Katipunan squad and set up the rumors of his return to his alma mater in Diliman.

Finally, in May 2016 he was officially named the head coach of the UP Fighting Maroons, taking over from Rensy Bajar. He would be their 4th head coach in the last four seasons up until that time.

Perasol openly says, “I told myself why shouldn’t I try?”

That was where this great run with UP began.

“The major problem of a school such as UP is the program itself. You don’t really have any kind of support whatsoever here. You will really need to bank on partners such as the alumni and sponsors. But before that could happen, I had to show them that I have a program laid out. Of course, there also has to be continuity.”

UP back then had a revolving door of coaches. Since 2007, their list of head coaches include: Joe Lipa, Aboy Castro, Boyet Fernandez, Ricky Dandan, Rey Madrid, and Rensy Bajar. That’s six head coaches in eight seasons.

“You simply can’t remove a coach year in and year out. I had to show the sponsors and alumni that the UP players now are different from years past. Our new gym, our new weights room, our meals, and our trainings outside the country are not things that UP and its administration can offer. I really had to convince people to help the team—and there are a lot, a lot of people who want to. You just have to tap into that right network. I was very fortunate enough to build mine throughout my experience in the corporate world and the PBA,” elaborates Perasol.

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“The players really matured," says Perasol proudly. "Bright’s (center Akhuetie) presence also lifted everyone."

After winning five games in the UAAP Season 79 (without any foreign players), Bo led UP to the brink of the Final Four the following year, coming up just one win short of a playoff game for the fourth and final spot.

Looking back on the difference between this Season 81 and the previous two, Perasol states: “The players really matured. Bright’s (center Akhuetie) presence also lifted everyone. Having a presence inside like him is really different. Plus the support of the alumni. We went to trainings abroad and the players’ confidence is really on another level. The thing is, if they feel the support, they find a way to give that back to the community by winning.”

The difference between ‘Papa Bo’ – as his players like to call him – compared to the UP head coaches of yester years is that he was able to instill in their minds that expectations are higher this time around. The community is not satisfied with one, two, or three wins. He is very proud to say that those expectations helped them reach this far in the tournament.

“With expectations that we have now, you can squeeze out the best from the boys. They learned how to be accountable to what everyone is expecting out of them. And I’m very proud of them for doing so this season,” explains Bo.

Bumps here and there

But not everything was smooth sailing for the Maroons this UAAP Season 81. At one point they were at 3-5 and were slowly slipping away from the playoffs. But Coach Bo strongly points out that despite those losses, they still knew that they could reach their goal. If they stay true to who they are and what they do, the goals are still within striking distance.

“To be honest, I think we also had a little bit of luck on our side,” says Perasol. “Slowly but surely we made it up the standings and it was our destiny to earn the 3rd seed via quotient. We are really blessed and thankful that God put us in that situation.”

Despite having no playoff experience against a veteran laden team in Adamson, the UP Fighting Maroons pulled through in one of the most anticipated UAAP games in history, winning courtesy of two close games (73-71, 89-87) and erasing the Soaring Falcons twice-to-beat-edge in the Final Four.

“The great thing I see about the boys in that series is that they already replaced their mindset of just being okay with where they are. They got rid of that complacency at the back of their minds. They told themselves, ‘We can do this,’ and they did. We were down, but never out. We still came back,” the coach says proudly.

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“You can only focus on what you can do. We need to think of what we can do to maximize what we have right now."

In these upcoming UAAP Season 81 Finals, Coach Bo and his Fighting Maroons are clearly the underdogs against the defending champions. It’s going to be a tall task for this squad. But he believes, together with his coaching staff and the whole UP system, that they have what it takes to pull through.

“You can only focus on what you can do. We need to think of what we can do to maximize what we have right now in this situation. We’ll just play our brand of game, our kind of basketball. I believe in these boys.”

With that, he whistles to mark the end of his last practice session the day before Game 1 of the UAAP Finals.

He huddles the team and they shout ‘1, 2, 3 – UP! 4, 5, 6, - FAMILY!’

When they break hands, he shouts “Let’s win!”

Perasol flashes a smile that says he is content and at peace.

It was never like this when he was in Ateneo. There’s a sense of calmness now around him, and a sense of happiness. When asked why, he has one simple answer.

“I’m home.”

Photographs by Keith Jasper Magcaling