The last time I saw Pido Jarencio in the UAAP was in 1985. He walked towards the Blue Eagles’ bench with a minute left in the game. By then UST was comfortably ahead of Ateneo who just saw their dreams of a Cinderella-like finish go up in smoke (Jarencio torched Ateneo for 30+ points). Ateneo fielded a unit mostly composed of freshmen (the ’85 Junior Champs moved up to the collegiate ranks); though they were tough and competitive, but were still pretty green for Seniors hoops. Jarencio shook the hands of his crestfallen foes and said not to worry for their time would come (and it did for they were back-to-back champs in ’87 & ‘88).
Here he is again, although in a coach’s capacity, leading the rejuvenated Tigers back into contention. And they’re playing his brand of run-and-gun ball. He’s got a young and exciting team that will only get better as they gain more experience.The streets of Manila are where one can hope to find good bargains. The Benedictine Fathers had the good fortune of finding one back in the day when they lured away a skinny kid from National University to matriculate eventually in San Beda. His name? Caloy Loyzaga. NU’s misfortune isn’t exactly the stuff of the Curse of the Bambino since they won the UAAP title in 1955, but since Skip Guinto graduated they’ve for the most part been hopelessly inept (save for a few years when they had Danny Ildefonso and Lordy Tugade and in 2002 when they made the semis). But had they kept Loyzaga, think of all the couldas, wouldas, and mighthaves. Here are the Bulldogs again -- slugging it out in this year of parity in the UAAP Men’s Basketball Tournament. And they’re beating some highly fancied teams at that.The Adamson Falcons know a bit about bad karma. Since they were suspended for Marlou Aquino’s bogus grades, their team has been hexed. The nadir coming with a pair of back-to-back winless seasons (and another bordered on a third). The rudder-less team that counts the sons of many former pro greats in its current line-up has oft been described as undisciplined and selfish. Here they are again with former pro coach Leo Austria at the helm and their game has earned them back a measure of respect.The saying about it being lonely at the top is something the FEU Tamaraws wouldn’t mind right now. Instead they’re at the bottom with everyone avoiding them like they had the plague. After 18 men’s basketball titles (including two in the last three years) – they’re tied with UE for the most number of league crowns. Here they are in unfamiliar territory and flirting with history of the dubious kind – if they don’t watch out, they could be the first defending champs team to miss the Final Four. The Ateneo Blue Eagles as of this writing are on top. They weren’t even considered to be among the top three teams to compete for the championship. The loss of three key players and having a team filled with question marks were enough to relegate them to dark horse status which is fine with them. Less pressure, right?Here they are again pacing the league and despite not having played the perfect game yet.The presence alone of Joe Lipa on UP’s bench is a story unto itself. His name is synonymous with winning. He’s old school smart and his witticisms and barbarisms make for great watering hole stories. He also hopes that lightning will strike twice as it’s the 20th anniversary of Maroon Pride and the 1986 team that is forever etched into school lore.Here they are currently under .500 but you know Da Nose is going to squeeze every ounce of talent out of his wards who are expected to compete for a final four berth.The UE Red Warriors last made it to the finals when they had Bong Ravena and Jolly Escobar. They’ve fielded some pretty terrific teams the past five years but never made it to the championship round. Here they are again a solid favorite to win their 19th title. Yet in their last two outings, they lost one badly and were nearly upset in another. All of a sudden the road to the championship isn’t smooth riding as basketball observers thought it would be.Welcome to Season 69 of the UAAP. Along with the NCAA, they are last bastion of hoops where it’s played purely for the love of the game and school pride. I love it that there are less sponsors whose commercial glut took the fun right out of the game (last I checked, it was hoops I went to watch, not some teeny bopper circus). Studio 23 should jack up its prices to the sponsors who left this year and hope to comeback next year. No DLSU? Sure we miss them but the league existed and thrived and was enjoyable long before they joined. For years the bane of the UAAP was year-in-and-out you could predict with unerring accuracy who would make the semis and win the oversized plaque that passes for a trophy. Now things are topsy turvy, plenty exciting, high-scoring and we’ve been treated this early to upsets and sub-plots galore! (Dis)parity in the league? You gotta love this game.