By: Ivan Angelo L. de Lara
UAAP Season 74 saw eight competitive teams. But in a league that only has four spots for semifinalists, and a summit for only one champion to conquer, four squads are left to go fishing as soon as the eliminations have ended.
The coaches and the players of these squads share their thoughts on their season, and what their supporters can expect from them next year.
8. University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons: Promising start, miserable finish (2-12 for last place)
After another winless season last year, the UP Fighting Maroons immediately improved their slate by winning their opening game against the University of the East Red Warriors. They followed this up by slaying title contenders Far Eastern University Tamaraws.
Newly-installed Coach Ricky Dandan seems to have put the fight back to the Maroons who have lost their spunk from all the heartbreaks they have experienced. He also said that his unit is a tightly-knit group that likes playing with each other. Expectations for a Final Four appearance, however, have slowly but surely diminished come the 2nd Round as the team failed to win a single game in this part of the competition.
“The teams knew how to defend us already,” Dandan told PinoyExchange.com. “We got worn down because we had no other threats specifically in the front line, so teams had the strategy of forcing us to shoot jump shots.”
Coach Dandan, however, is more upbeat with his team’s chances next season. Only Miggy Maniego is leaving the team to graduation, while the core of Mike Gamboa, Jett Manuel, Alinko Mbah, and Mike Silungan will stay. The team, however, needs a more formidable inside presence that will take the load off the impressive, but inconsistent perimeter shooters.
“Of course we will be better, most definitely,” Dandan said. “There’ll be changes in the lineup. We hope to be better.”
7. University of the East Red Warriors: No quitters (3-11 for seventh place)
The UE Red Warriors were so emotional when they got their first win of the season by subduing the National University Bulldogs in the first round. But their season did not end there. Dismissed by many basketball pundits to inherit the 0-14 record from the Maroons, the Warriors continued to work hard to earn the respect of the league.
They would get blown out in one game, and then bounce back the next. The Warriors showed the league that they may not have the superstars, but they never lacked heart.
“We may be small, but we always fight,” Coach Jerry Codiñera said. “We try to make ways on how to be competitive along the way, along the game. We don’t just give up.”
The Warriors still need a lot of work to do if they want to get back to the promised land they were so used to being in the past few years. Codiñera and his wards continue the process as they look forward to joining off-season tournaments.
“We will rest muna. Tapos recruitment, and train during the off season,” Codiñera said. “We need to assess and evaluate the players’ performance.”
UE will sorely miss the leadership of Paul Zamar and Lucas Tagarda, and the hustle of Biboy Enguio next year. But it can expect a lot from versatile vets JM Noble and Adrian Santos, and exuberant neophytes Roi Sumang, Chris Javier, and BJ Soza.
6. De La Salle University Green Archers: Heartbreak kids of the season (5-9 for sixth place)
Celebrating the 100th year foundation of the university was enough reason for the Archers to want to win the championship. And on paper, the Archers seem to have what it takes to do so.
The Archers, however, skidded early, losing back-to-back in their first two games. If that was not disappointing enough, they were even more hard-luck in the second round, where they only registered one win in their seven games.
Comebacking guard LA Revilla assessed the team’s failure as not a consequence lack of talent—because it obviously has a lot—but to the failure of some players to accomplish their roles.
“In my own opinion, there were times that the players in the team had lack of maturity,” Revilla said. “We had some issues with playing together, and sticking together. Probably, there were roles that some of us were not able to play.”
This is the second time La Salle—undoubtedly the most formidable team from the late 90’s to the early 2000’s—has missed the semis bus in the last three years. This has pushed angry fans to call for changes in the team, particularly the coaching staff. Aside from a heartbreak season, the Archers are taking uncertainty with them to the off-season.
“It’s gonna be a long off-season for us,” Revilla said. “So far, we just need a break, then figure out things once we return to the court.”
Expect the likes of Arnold Van Opstal, Norbert Torres, Oda Tampus, Luigi dela Paz, and Revilla to become stronger and wiser next season.
5. National University Bulldogs: Outside looking in (6-8 for fifth place)
Just like La Salle, the NU Bulldogs were not short of talent. They have an imposing import in Emmanuel Mbe, a crew of high school superstars and marquee transferees from their mother leagues, and they have the young superstar in Bobby Ray Parks Jr. But as the season progressed, only Parks proved to play to his billing. The others were either inconsistent or just undependable. This season alone proved that Parks can win some games by himself, but he could not take the whole team to the Final Four just by his lonesome.
“I’d rather win a championship any day than the MVP,” said Parks, one of the league’s leading MVP candidates. “MVP is about one man, the championship speaks for the whole team.”
The Bulldogs may have had a forgettable mid-season, but they sure went out with a bang. Already out of contention, they played without pressure and played tremendously well.
Coach Erik Altamirano, however, said his team will take it relatively easy this off-season, just so he could instill the hunger to his boys. For the meantime, he will monitor one aspect of a student-athlete’s life some take for granted—that of being a student.
“I might give them some time to be hungry again,” Altamirano said. “I don’t know yet if we’re gonna join other leagues.”
“I want them to focus on their studies. I’m monitoring their studies,” Altamirano added. “I wanna know if they’re passisng. We’re trying to emphasize now education, not just basketball.”
Parks was obviously stellar this season. Gelo Alolino, Emmanuel Mbe, Jeff Javillonar, and Jul-ashri Ignacio had flashes of brilliance. Watch out for them next season.