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Five reasons why you should feel hopeful about these UP Fighting Maroons
by rick olivares
“Mananalo tayo, boy!” yelled second year center Gelo Vito to Jet Manuel who was seated at the far end of the UP Fighting Maroons’ bench after cramps knocked him out of the game.
Manuel replied with a resounding, “Yeah!”
All match long, the Fighting Maroons showed tenacity and resiliency in battling the favored La Salle Green Archers in the main game of the Friday edition of the Filoil Flying v Hanes Premier Cup.
They showed a lot of heart and hustle in nearly piping La Salle that also gave a glimpse of how good they can be with their rookies and sophomores putting the game in the bag for their third win in four outings. And to think they were without some of their stars that were either unavailable due or injury or checked out in the middle of the match for the same reasons.
The Fighting Maroons remained in the fight even as they lost third year guard Kyles Lao to a knee injury. But they battled back to spot the Green Archers a four-point lead late in the game. They were unable to build on the lead as they missed on crucial possessions with Henry Asilum misfiring on three of them while Andrei Caracut showed that green and white fans why he is perhaps the best go-to player now. La Salle took the match in overtime, 82-79.
The Maroons dropped to 1-2 after winning their tournament opener, a tight one, over Mapua before falling to powerhouse CEU and now La Salle. However, rather than an atmosphere from a morgue (especially with Lao confirmed to have injured his knee and will be out for at least six months), there was positivity in the UP locker room post-match
Here are five reasons why you should be excited about this UP team:
They have the offensive firepower to compete with others
They have players who can put the ball in the hoop even without Lao who will be out for some time – JR Gallarza, Diego Dario, Paul Desiderio, Dave Moralde, and the second coming of Rain or Shine’s Jeff Chan in look-alike Jet Manuel. You can even Jan Jaboneta. All those players – you can throw in Henry Asilum there when his shot is on – can drill the three-pointer as well so you know this will be a huge weapon for coach Joe Ward.
However, as much as they have scoring punch from the outside they need to balance it out with some points in the lane.
I wish though their coaching staff would give Gelo Vito and especially Paolo Romero meaningful minutes because they need some scoring in that area. They got away with Desiderio and Moralde posting the smaller La Salle guards but come UAAP time that will not happen much.
Their African players are rapidly improving.
With more high-level exposure Cheik Kone and Lionel Tekoudjou can plug that hole in the middle with scoring and defense. When they get those rebounds, it will allow Dario, Desiderio, Manuel, and Moralde to run. And Kone can finish the break as well. Boy, is that frightening? A big man who can run and finish the break! Between the two, Kone has the bigger upside.
They found a style that they are comfortable with and it will win over fans.
A coach from another school who saw the UP game against La Salle remarked that they don’t have too much talent so they compensate with a highly physical game and a pressing defense.
I agree to up to a certain point because I believe they have the talent to compete. But I like the physicality that is no way dirty. They just hound you and keep going at you.
These lads are hungry.
The naysayers might say, “Nothing has changed. They may compete but they are still losing and they had the same summer record as last year at this juncture.”
True up to a certain point. But the difference this year is they know they have the material to compete. However, whether in this tournament or not, they need to pick up some more wins to keep that confidence high.
They’ve got superb support from management
You know what I like about them this year? Team manager Dan Palami is very visible from the stands and in the dugout. Having watched Dan with the Azkals since 2010, I know him to be a very vocal voice on the bench (because he cares about winning). But of late, with competent coaches at the helm, he has sat back and enjoyed the game. I didn’t see him too often last season but this year, he has made a conscious effort to be there. He sees the heartbreak and this is a man who know a thing or two about building champions. He’s done that for the Philippine Men’s National Team and for Global FC in the UFL. It stands to reason that he can do the same for UP. The modest goal is the Final Four of the upcoming UAAP season and I’d say they are ready to make that significant push.
I hear good things coming out of the UP camp about management support and when you know that it makes it easier to compete.
And you know the saying, “When you’re down the only way to go is UP.”