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UAAP Season 77 Men's Basketball Preview
UAAP Season 77 Men's Basketball Preview
by rick olivares
In a weakened league, the one team largely untouched by graduation and eligibility issues is La Salle. They caught everyone as they were rebuilding and now they are in prime position to defend and cross the next stage of their projected nth-peat.
Here’s how we size up the various teams in this year’s UAAP Men’s basketball season.
De La Salle Green Archers
When you talk about this UAAP season, any school team’s ambitions will have to come right through Taft Avenue.
They have added four new faces in Terence Mustre, Prince Rivero, Julian Sargent, and Abu Tratter while Luigi dela Paz and Oda Tampus have been dropped from the line-up.
If you ask me, the single biggest addition to the Green Archers is not a player but a state of mind and a feeling – it’s confidence.
The last two years, they were a team learning how to win. They know that already. But what they gained significantly since the last UAAP is the knowledge they can pull out a win and that they can turn on the jets when they want to. Plus, they’ve got two closers in Jeron Teng and Almond Vosotros. What a luxury.
It’s a complete team that is what Juno Sauler has. This team likes to attack that basket. They can pound it inside to their bigs or barrel right through. They can also bombard from the outside. Thomas Torres has improved his accuracy clip from three-point range and that will open up the defenses for Teng, Rivero, and Sargent.
Ah, Sargent. He will be the Kirk Long for this DLSU team. He can play the defensive specialist (he’s got the hops, speed, and wingspan to guard from the 1-spot to the 3-spot). He will play major minutes for Sauler.
I like Prince Rivero because he not only plays aggressively but shows terrific basketball smarts for such a young player. And that mind and talent makes up for his lack of height.
If the Green Archers stay focused they can even sweep the darn elimination round. That’s how good this team is.
And I’d say, even now, they’re the only one that looks to have a sure fire lock on a Final Four or even a Finals seat.
Far Eastern University Tamaraws
Now minus those two pistoleros who saw red every time they were within range of a basket. They finally have a team except they aren’t the San Antonio Spurs deep or stud-like.
The key to any success for Nash Racela’s squad is the frontline. Sure Mike Tolomia’s rapid development is key and he is arguably the best point guard in the UAAP (although Roi Sumang will give him some heat). Sure Achi Iñigo has improved on both ends of the court but this team will go only as far as their four and five-spot players will take them. You need someone, some people, to battle La Salle inside.
Anthony Hargrove was magnificent in the post-Season 76 tourney. He clogged that lane to reject shots, he scored via dunks, putbacks, and medium range jumpers, and more importantly, dished some serious dimes leaving many to marvel about his court vision.
For FEU to have a fighting chance against the league’s behemoths, Hargrove needs to do the following:
· Stay focused
· Not get into foul trouble
· Not to blame teammates
· Play consistently
· Not to get into foul trouble
Notice I mentioned that foul problem twice. Therefore you know it is a problem!
If Russell Escoto can rediscover his pre-ACL injury form, he will help the Tams a lot. As it is, during the summer, he looked tentative and unwilling to battle inside. He’ll have to tag team with Hargrove and even Reymar Jose in patrolling the paint.
And of course, there’s Mac Belo needs to score and play D too.
They’ll challenge for a F4 seat. Anything farther than that depends on the play of their frontline.
University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers
So many questions heading into this new season. Perhaps the biggest of them all is, “What will be enough to satiate UST fans – a Final Four berth, a third consecutive Finals appearance or a championship given how Season 76 ended?”
While new coach Bong dela Cruz will be given his honeymoon period with the team will the above question also have bearing on the approach for this campaign? Granted his has four of last year’s starters back in Kim Lo, Kevin Ferrer, Aljon Mariano, and Karim Abdul three of who arguably are the best at their position.
Some of their bench players will be better this year given their maturity – Sheak Sherriff, Louie Vigil, Ed Daquioag, and Jeepy Faundo. The much talked about Henry Subido will have found a college to play for after waffling between La Salle, UP and UST. He will be like what Jeric Fortuna was for the Growling Tigers.
Now UST only played in the Fr. Martin’s Cup in the pre-season where they lost in the Finals to the Perpetual Help Altas so you know that this team is still capable of racking up wins (furthermore, Kevin Ferrer didn’t suit up in that match).
It would be absolutely foolish to overlook them thinking they are done after being twice crushed in the UAAP Men’s Basketball Finals. They’ll challenge for the F4 that’s for sure.
But everyone wants to see how they play especially on opening day. And that includes Aljon Mariano.
University of the East Red Warriors
One of the best things for the host school’s team this season will be the lack of hype surrounding them. After their spectacular pre-season run of Season 76, they bombed out of the tourney in disappointing fashion. Now they’ve changed head coaches and brought back another former player in Derrick Pumaren.
There’s Red Warriors blood coursing through his veins as he led the juniors team to a championship four decades ago. He played for the seniors team before transferring to La Salle. But he’s back and there’s no doubt about his coaching chops.
The question is, has the team fully embraced the system and style of play he installed? The Red Warriors showed intermittently what they can do when they’ve fully grasped it – they pressed and harried foes en route to easy points and wins. When they missed it, they lost. I’d think that the last month or so will have given the team more time to learn it and to give Roi Sumang plenty of rest as he was banged up as well in the pre-season.
Despite the graduation of many of their former stars there’s an exciting crop of youngsters ready to take flight – there’s shooter Bong Gallanza who should ease the pressure off Sumang, Renz Palma who is an amazing athlete and might be the second coming of Lord Casajeros minus the extraneous stuff (you should know what I mean), and there’s Mark Olayon and Paul Varilla. There’s Gino Jumao-as who needs to be more consistent and decisive in what he wants to do. But in Jumao-as, Pumaren has another player who can create for his teammates. If Jumao-as realizes his potential he could be this squad’s Ryan Buenafe.
The back court – there’s Danger Dan Alberto to spell Sumang. If he’s finding the range watch out.
Lastly, there’s Charles Mammie and Moustapha Arafat. If Mammie learned anything in the past UAAP season and the pre-season it is not to let opponents get into his head. Hopefully, Pumaren will have drummed that into his head. Arafat is fun to watch and by now he would have learned that this isn’t the Fr. Martin’s Cup where he dominated.
They’ve got quite a team that if they get things right, could possibly go farther than last season’s squad.
Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles
The most important thing for them heading into the season is that they are healthy. They weren’t deep last year but they were still plenty good. When they got banged up that was it.
It is hard to believe that Kiefer Ravena is now on his fourth year in the league. And time sure does fly. And he’ll want to erase the memory of last year’s crash. Although they lost so much heading into Season 76, they way they played in the summer showed they could still compete until a rash of injuries before and during the UAAP saw their Final Four streak come to an end.
So you can bet there is plenty of motivation for Kiefer Ravena to return to the level he previously enjoyed.
Chris Newsome will be better after his baptism of fire. A healthy Von Pessumal is someone you cannot take for granted coz he’ll burn you. And that’s it… no Jerry Pingoy or Hubert Cani just yet…. but they’ve brought in a sparkling rookie batch that is more bemedalled than their 2008 class.
However right now that 2008 class is headed to that school’s Hall of Fame while this one’s work is just getting started. If these seven new players – John Apacible, Clint Doliguez, Fonzo Gotladera, Jay Javelosa, Thirdy Ravena, Arvin Tolentino, and Paul Siarot -- contribute heavily, they’ll start a new streak of finals appearances. The question there is how they respond and will they be given ample time to show their wares. And for some, like Doliguez, how will he adjust to the college game where the players he will go up against are taller than him? Apacible is athletic and has the moves down the post but how will he fare against the Karim Abduls and AVOs? He will have to outwit them. And here’s where you hope to see Javelosa in action because he’s a smart player.
If that three-headed monster of Gotladera, Gboy Babilonia, and Arvin Tolentino can hold the fort in the middle then these guys will run.
For all the focus and questions about the players (because the rookies need to help out immediately), the most watched person will be the head coach, Bo Perasol.
More than any other time in his career, this is where he has to show how good a coach he is.
National University Bulldogs
The first year of the post-Bobby Parks era begins. As great as Parks was, people overlook the fact that they had a very good team. Now they’ve lost about seven or eight of their previous mainstays, the task of heading back to the Final Four lies in a few players who didn’t see much playing time in previous season and some who weren’t even in uniform last year.
Not having Parks and company is not an excuse however given management’s expectations. A F4 slot is the target.
This team will resemble the last few Pido Jarencio-coached UST teams – a darn good starting unit with a lot of role players.
Alfred Aroga. One year too late. Could have been that complementary piece to dreamed title run ending Hans Sy’s projected championship in five years. Aroga is good and will be the best player on this team but they will need him to be a rock inside. The problem is he is not really a back-to-the-basket player.
Glenn Khobuntin will finally get a chance to show everyone what kind of player he was when he was recruited out of Letran all those years ago. Glenn’s got the hops, the drive, the toughness, and confidence to take over that three-spot. And that moves Troy Rosario to the four.
Rosario is like Mac Belo of FEU in his game – can post up, likes to faces the basket, is explosive around the basket, can rebound some. Except he’s got plenty of hops. He will be one of three highlight reels for NU this season with the other two being Aroga and Khobuntin.
There’s Gelo Alolino at point. While some question his ability to quarterback, they will need him more than ever. He’ll have former San Beda Red Cub Rev Diputado to back him up and this kid has good range. I’m surprised though that they dropped Cedric Labing-isa from the line-up. This kid showed what he could do given extended minutes in the PBA D-League. Should have stayed in UST, kid.
This is Kyle Neypes’ time to shine as well. While he is now able to contribute a little better, his consistency is the question. And staying in the game as he is a foul magnet. Reden Celda, Tristan Perez, Pao Javelona, and Henry Betayene will round out the rotation.
University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons
What I found odd about this team in years past? They had as many coaches as they had players. For real. Check out the bench and the back of the bench.
They must have cleaned out that section of the supermarket marked “shooters” as they have a platoon of players who can bombard from the outside in JR Gallarza, Henry Asilum, Diego Dario, Mo Gingerich, Mikee Reyes, Jarrell Lim, Kyles Lao, and Dave Moralde, and Mark Juruena. The one they missed it forward and centers. Andrew Harris, Chris Vito and former Ateneo Team B player Darwish Bederi will have to play three-headed monster in the slot.
Diego Dario will give Roi Sumang a run for his pound-for-pound best player. This kid can flat out shoot. Incredible.
The problem though is this team has too many points guards. While it is their strength, unless you shoot the daylights out of the gym for every game, you’ll need the big guys to grab those boards.
They can boogie with everyone in the first half, it’s in the second half where this team tends to fold. They can play defense, the problem is sustaining it.
This team bought into Rey Madrid’s system. They had some success playing it. Now to see how they bring it during the season.
If teams aren’t too careful, the Maroons will spring a win over them.
Adamson University Soaring Falcons
In the wake of the departure of Leo Austria who won back for this San Marcelino school a lot of respectability were the goodbyes of Jericho Cruz and Ingrid Sewa and the graduation of Rodney Brondial and Roider Cabrera. That was their entire offense right there.
If NU now has players who didn’t see much playing time the previous season leading them then more so with Adamson. What might hurt this team even more is they didn’t compete in the pre-season.
Jansen Rios was promoted to the starting five last year, didn’t play well 9as did others as they tried to integrate Sewa) and was demoted halfway. He then picked it up as the season ended.
Don Trollano is another who blows hot and cold But the onus is now on both Rios and Trollano to be their go to players. Not much pressure unless there is if you want to stay out of the cellar.
They’ll also be counting on Francis Donahue who had some moments last season as did Ryan Monteclaro and Axel Iñigo who will run the show for first time coach Kenneth Duremdes.
To sum it all up, La Salle looks really good while Ateneo, FEU, NU, UE and UST will be battling for the other three F4 seats while UP and Adamson try to scramble and stay out of the bottom half.