Photo by Ara Eugenio

Last year, a roaring crowd of Iskos and Iskas stood in awe as the University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons defeated their semifinals rival Adamson University (AdU), entering the UAAP Season 81 Men’s Basketball Finals in 32 years. 

Stunning fans and critics alike, State U entered its first gold medal match after a three-decade drought. This momentous feat gave Iskos and Iskas hope that their team can defeat the Ateneo De Manila University (ADMU) Blue Eagles in the championship. 

Even though the Diliman-based squad did not come home with a victory, fans remained optimistic that UP’s historic run last season could be replicated, especially with Kobe Paras and Ricci Rivero in the roster. Despite this loaded lineup, UP still lacked a new skipper that could fill the shoes of former King Maroon Paul Desiderio. 

Just a week before Season 82 started, State U found a captain in Noah Webb. 

The 6-foot-3 small forward sits confidently, yet exudes a humble demeanor. He appears in remarkably vibrant shape, undeterred by the noise from critics and fans. Though the stat sheets don’t show it, Noah has opened up the court for UP with his transition offense. Screening his team’s toughest opponents, the grit-and-grind player never fails to deliver. 

In a competition where the league’s sharpshooters steal the spotlight, Noah’s small victories have gone unnoticed. That is why his efforts are underappreciated by the public. 

Overlooked by many sports enthusiasts, the gunner has admitted that what he lacks in skill, he more than makes up for in leadership.

“I’m not the best player on the floor. I’m not even the best player at my five, but I guess I lead by example. I try to keep guys in order,”  the skipper divulged. 

He set foot in the collegiate sports league in 2015 all thanks to UP, the only squad that gave him a shot at UAAP basketball. This opportunity encouraged him to immerse himself into the team. 

Sparking energy off the bench and blocking opponents any chance he got, the young athlete soon became one of UP’s most talented rebounders. 

Webb endured a 3-11 finish back in his rookie days, when UP placed last in the Season 79 eliminations round. This trial by fire pushed him to promise his batchmate Janjan Jaboneta that he would pull the Maroons out of the cellar. 

“I was talking to him like, ‘Remember this: when we’re seniors, this […] not gonna happen again. I’m tired of losing,’ ” Webb shared. 

Although he had been consistently motivating the Maroons through their ups and downs, Noah never considered becoming their leader. 

That all changed when his fellow cagers entrusted the position to him this August. 

At first, the demanding responsibility daunted Webb. He was afraid that he would not effectively guide a revamped roster packed with unfamiliar faces. 

“[Being a] team captain’s a lot of responsibility. Coming into this year, there were so many guys that I didn’t really even know,” the senior admitted. 

“I didn’t really know James, David, Kobe, Ricci. I was okay with Bright, but I didn’t really know him at the time. And I don’t know how to lead people that I don’t know.” he added.

But the skipper went out of his way to connect with everyone in his lineup. Not long after, Noah built a tight-knit relationship with the Maroons, one that forged a bond with newbies and veterans. 

His constant communication inside the team instilled a winning culture in his squad that helped them bag a twice-to-beat advantage for the league’s semifinals – an achievement UP has not seen in 26 years until Oct. 27. 

Surpassing many obstacles to help land UP in second place, Noah has come a long way from being in the league’s lowest-ranking lineup. This remarkable journey has strengthened his teammates’ respect for him. 

Before leading the Maroons to an astonishing 9-5 run this 2019, Noah endured excruciating ankle injuries that recurred for three straight years. The numerous health scares riddled him with fear, and even drove him to skip Season 81 due to physical trauma caused by bone spurs. 

“[The] doctor said I was cleared to play [for Season 81], but I chose to listen to my body. My body told me, ‘If you play, there’s a chance that you might get injured again,’ ” said Webb. 

On top of these personal restraints, he faced demotivating defeats as a freshman student-athlete in 2015 that discouraged him from playing basketball. 

He even considered leaving the sport when he initially failed to see the fruits of his labor. 

“I don’t like losing. No one likes losing. It sucks. Coming from a winning school, I couldn’t take it,” stated the promising gunner. 

But these tribulations later helped him see his growing love for the game. 

“I thought of quitting basketball many times, but it’s only beneficial for me if I stay in it. The pros outweigh the cons and I wanna play basketball while I still can,” shared the loyal Isko cager. 

He continues to remain optimistic about his athletic career and even his teammates, both of which have made the menacing captain post a little bit easier for him. 

“I’m lucky I’m blessed with a team that’s rational. No one’s really got such a big ego so that they don’t listen. So I can talk to them. I can talk to my guys,” iterated Webb. 

The skipper always puts his squad first upon realizing he plays a role bigger than himself. Noah has sacrificed so much, and poured his heart and soul into basketball, for UP to have a shot at redemption this season. 

But the small forward knew that passion alone cannot earn a championship. 

“Strong kami mag-start tapos binibitawan namin [‘yun] sa dulo. Kung magiging consistent kami through the whole game, for sure may chance kami every game that we play,” imparted the captain. 

(We start strong, but we let go of that in the end. If we’re consistent throughout the whole game, then we’ll have a big chance of winning every game that we play.)

The King Maroon also pointed out the Maroons have to be in-sync if they want to win the championship. 

“The challenge is getting the personnel to work together. Thankfully, we do it sometimes. Most of the time. We still have a lot of work to do,” shared the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) D-League baller. 

The selfless leader is looking to address this problem by encouraging his teammates to connect with one another on and off the court. 

He hopes to synergize the squad before its do-or-die semifinals game against the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers, Wednesday. 

No matter the outcome of this rubber match, Noah Webb has proven naysayers wrong by steering his team into the playoffs. He will stop at nothing to strike gold with the UP Fighting Maroons at the UAAP Season 82 Men’s Basketball Finals.

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