This appears on philstar.com
Looking at Adamson, FEU and NU towards the end of the first round.
Looking at Adamson, FEU and NU towards the end of the first round.
by rick olivares
Are you surprised by how FEU and NU have played in this UAAP Season 77?
Most would assume that teams would collapse without their stars. And it happens. But not all the time.
This UAAP season has examples for both arguments.
Adamson is winless in six matches. They could not offset the loss of Jericho Cruz, Rodney Brondial, Roider Cabrera, and Ingrid Sewa.
They only had two players who got significant playing time last season – Axel Iñigo and Don Trollano – with Jansen Rios demoted to the bench after the first round of Season 76.
At one point last April, according to assistant coach Vince Hizon, they had up to 120 players vying for a slot on the Falcons. Noted Hizon, they deliberately did not play any summer tournaments because they were not ready.
The team looked northward to the US where they went on a (three-week) recruiting trip. The players they wanted are now enrolled in Adamson where they will play next season.
A look at their lineup will reveal perhaps the youngest squad in the UAAP. They don’t want to be in the history books in the wrong way. And they have not given up this season, they will try their best to get a few wins to salvage something.
Conversely, here are two other squads that have done very well without their former stars.
FEU lost a pair of league Most Valuable Players in RR Garcia and Terrence Romeo and their “glue player” in Gryann Mendoza.
National University lost Ray Parks, Emmanuel Mbe, Lee Dennice Villamor, Robin Roño, Cedric Labing-isa, Jeff Javillionar (due to injury), Mark De Guzman, and William Porter.
That sheer number of players lost looks certain to cripple many a team. For NU, that accounts for two-time league MVP (Parks), a center who has made the Mythical Five (Mbe), their defensive specialist (Porter), and some key back-ups.
Yet they finished the first round, 5-2. FEU still has a match to play before they conclude the first round. And at this moment, they are 4-2 (last season they were at 7-0 after the first round before they crashed and burned in the second round).
Far Eastern University
I’d still like to point out how FEU played in the last Philippine Collegiate Champions League sans their two MVPs (but with Mendoza). They played some beautiful basketball with the ball not only moving around quickly but also they were also winning with a spread the wealth system. And furthermore, Anthony Hargrove had come alive after not seeing eye-to-eye with some of his graduated teammates.
Minus Mendoza, they still looked very good even in the summer and came within a Mike Tolomia basket of making the Filoil finals.
It’s good to see Carl Cruz step up. He does everything – guard the opposing team’s post-player, rebound, and join his teammates on fastbreaks. And he’s re-found that shooting touch that deserted him after his first and second year.
Mark Belo has quietly become this team’s stud frontcourt player. You could already see even during his debut years ago that he had a high basketball IQ. He isn’t one to force shots and he gets the job done. He’s got the speed to go with the guards and the height to battle the behemoths of the league.
Roger Pogoy is another of those quietly efficient players that Racela has. I like how his newfound maturity has him doing what it takes for the team to win. If it’s defense, it’s defense. If it’s helping bring down the ball, he plays like a point forward. Plus, he supplies a lot of athleticism and energy.
Mike Tolomia. Now here’s their go-to player. Great talent who can get his shot off any time he wants. But has to continue to learn when to look for his points and when to pass. But they don’t without him and Hargrove. They will need him and Russell Escoto to plug that middle because if they want to take it from the Green Archers, they’ll have to battle that monstrous frontline of theirs.
Can they win it?
It’s team play that has them where they are and that is what will get them to the finals if they so wish it.
Now let’s take a look at NU.
One, head coach Eric Altamirano has recruited well. He’s brought in some blue chip recruits in JJ Alejandro, Rev Diputado, JP Cauilan, and Meds Salim. Young players who will standout for this squad.
I like JP Cauilan, their 6’4” forward who played the four and five in high school but will play four in college. He has a skill set much like Norbert Torres, Russell Escoto, and Aldrech Ramos – tall players who with a good touch from the outside but who could play the inside.
People thought that Diputado was staying in San Beda for college but moved over to nearby Sampaloc. In Mendiola, he’d be part of the logjam at the one but in NU, there’s a dearth of point guards and he ably shares the duties with Gelo Alolino and Pao Javellona. The kid can shoot. Always could. Right now, they could overlook the playmaking but he should really work on it.
It would behoove Alejandro to pattern his game after guys like Renren Ritualo or JVee Casio; quick release shooters with golden hands and blessed with quickness. Alejandro has those but needs consistency.
Two, it’s a better “team” now.
This isn’t a knock on Ray Parks who I’m a huge fan of. No Parks and these guys wouldn’t have won as much. However, the lack of that “star player” has prompted this team of “no-stars” to work together. And they are getting it done.
Troy Rosario previously only did well in the pre or post-seasons but this time is helping lead this team along with Glenn Khobuntin. The latter’s late ascendancy (there were other guys playing ahead of him and he didn’t regain the confidence he had in his freshman year) has certainly helped.
Imagine if this team had Henri Betayene last season. They would have made the Finals. That botched placing of Alfred Aroga in their lineup arguably cost them their biggest chance to win a title. But Henri has quietly added depth and shored up their defense.
Three, since Altamirano took over, defense has been one of the team’s priorities. Sans their previous stars, they have remained just as good.
After seven games in Season 76, NU was at 4-3; this year they are at 5-2. Not bad at all.
But… could they win it now?
Aroga isn’t that frightful player everyone saw two summers ago. I think that he worked so well with Parks (in a team that was sans Mbe) that they looked frightening. While the team has to come together, NU will need Aroga to pick it up if this team wants to be the surprise winner in a season that most people believe will end with another La Salle coronation.
The advantage of FEU and NU as opposed to Adamson is they have their coaches and systems in place while the latter got caught in a transitional phase.