Part One: Adamson, Ateneo, La Salle & FEU
Head coach: Leo Austria (seventh year)
Season 75 record: 3-11
Filoil record: 6-3
Key losses: Eric Camson, Alex Nuyles, Allen Etrone, Jeffrey Olalia, James Deans
Additions: Matthew Bernabe (University of the East), Jerome Garcia (Jose Rizal University), Axel Iñigo (San Beda College), Dawn Hnyric Ochea (Sacred Heart-Ateneo de Cebu), Ingrid Sewa (Biyem-assi High School Cameroon)
Projected starting five: Ingrid Sewa (center), Rodney Brondial (power forward), Jansen Rios (small forward), Jericho Cruz (shooting guard), Ryan Monteclaro (point guard)
Can the Falcons bounce back after a disappointing S75?
For Adamson to do better this season, they’ll need to work on a few things:
1. How Adamson adjusts to what I call the Greg Slaughter Principle (wherein you thrown in a massive center to the team and displace some vets). The addition of Ingrid Sewa at center has seen Rodney Brondial move to the power forward position previously filled by Eric Camson. This was like Justin Chua and Frank Golla losing their spots when Greg Slaughter joined the Ateneo Blue Eagles’ line-up.
There were long stretches in the summer where Brondial was lost in the offensive or defensive scheme of things as Adamson also struggled to integrate Sewa. Eventually, Brondial was named to the Mythical Selection of the Filoil tournament. If he can keep it up, he’ll be a huge addition as Coach Leo can draw some firepower from that spot.
If Sewa can watch his fouls, hit his free throws and grab those rebounds, he’ll be a huge help for Adamson. He cannot keep asking for the ball. I believe Adamson will play better with the ball going through Cruz and Brondial as opposed to Sewa who is foul and turnover prone.
2. The team finally had a full pre-season with Jericho Cruz as the main man. Last season after the untimely season-ending injury to Alex Nuyles, Cruz took over the team as chief creator. But it wasn’t enough as the Falcons clearly suffered from the graduation of its two points guards -- Lester Alvarez and Jerick Cañada.
For Adamson to roll, they’ll need better leadership and more contributions from Ryan Monteclaro who had his moments but they were few and far in between. Ar-arouf Julkipli missed the pre-season so it’s anyone’s guess how good he’ll be. They added Axel Iñigo from NCAA Juniors champion San Beda and he’ll be a terrific addition. Iñigo will run the Falcons’ offense one day but it’s still a learning process for him.
If the guard corps can contribute that will be a huge addition to Austria’s team. Never mind the ball handling or the assists, as it will be Cruz who will handle that most of the time.
3. The Falcons will need to get Roider Cabrera going when he comes off the bench. I was surprised they didn’t run too many plays for him when he came on the court. They will need his offense (read: three-point shooting) to open up the lane for Cruz’ incursions or for Sewa and Brondial to post-up.
4. They blew hot and cold last year and in the pre-season. But Jansen Rios and Harry Petilos are every bit as crucial. Consistency and focus on the game are things they need to work on.
Ateneo Blue Eagles
Head coach: Bo Perasol (first year)
Season 75 record: 15-2, Champion
Filoil record: 7-1
Key losses: Greg Slaughter, Nico Salva, Justin Chua, Tonino Gonzaga, Oping Sumalinog, Kris Porter
Additions: Anton Asistio (Ateneo High School), Fran Asuncion (Ateneo High School), Ivan Enriquez (Ateneo High School), Earl Murphy (Southville International School), Chris Newsome (Rio Rancho High School New Mexico), Vince Tolentino (Langara, Canada)
Projected starting five: Frank Golla (center), Chris Newsome (power forward), Von Pessumal (small forward), Kiefer Ravena (shooting guard), Juami Tiongson (point guard)
Can the Blue Eagles win a sixth straight title in spite of being depleted, height-challenged, and having concerns about their players’ health?
Yes. But it’s going to be much harder than anything they’ve faced. Much more difficult than the three-peat year (season 73). Every team more than ever is gunning for the crown that sits atop their head. Because of the graduations of key players and the concerns about the health of some players, opposing teams can smell blood in the water. They will have to be accomplish three things to achieve a sixth straight title (yes, the team is still hungry for more):
1. Draw magnificent performances from key veterans and newcomers.
Bo Perasol has 10 holdovers from last year’s title team. However, of the 10, only Ryan Buenafe, Kiefer Ravena, Juami Tiongson, Nico Elorde, and JP Erram got significant playing time.
Frank Golla didn’t play much last year but he had a terrific summer and looks to have recovered his form and confidence from Season 73 and then some.
They have the championship experience but is it enough?
This is now Kiefer Ravena’s team. But the great thing about the Phenom is he knows when to take a backseat or when to take over. Expect him to have a terrific season that could see him vie for MVP honors. I know the individual awards aren’t important for him as the six-peat is the ultimate goal but still.
Ryan Buenafe must have a breakout season. He cannot afford to be picky about his games. He has to show up every single match. He might have great basketball instincts but if he wants to bring it to the pros he must show that he can be consistent.
Chris Newsome must do two things: help out in the frontcourt and stay out of foul trouble. If he can accomplish both, the Blue Eagles will be very competitive.
I am worried that JP Erram might not be in basketball shape as he spent more than half the summer recuperating from his injuries. Any chance of going deep into the season also depends on his health. He’s healthy now but is he season ready?
Golla must play continue to play smart and not let the dirty play and spotty calls affect his game.
If Perasol can draw out the games of Nico Elorde (shooting) and Von Pessumal (all-around play) with bonus points coming from the rookies, then that’s a load off the starters’ shoulders.
2. In my interview with Bo Perasol in the first episode of Blue Eagle 40, the first year head coach said that he’s used to the pressure. “Kinakain ko na yung pressure for breakfast,” he said.
Depleted or not, Perasol who is used to working with teams with deficiencies (lack of top players), must turn in his best coaching job ever.
In seasons past, Ateneo made an art form out of its halftime adjustments. How well the Blue Eagles adjust to adversity will also determine how far they go this year.
3. Can the Blue Eagles reprise Season 73 and defend that shaded lane by committee?
If JP Erram weren’t coming off an ACL injury, I’d rank the Blue Eagles much higher. But his knee is still suspect. And so is Giboy Babilonia’s shoulder.
Ivan Enriquez, a former Blue Eaglet who spent time in Team B, along with Vince Tolentino are tasked to help out Golla and Newsome. I liked Enriquez during his juniors days but I am not sure if how he’ll fare against top-flight competition. But it says here that lightning will strike twice (ala Jason Escueta in Season 73).
Tolentino has good instincts but needs to bulk up. He gives up so much space by always backing up when posted up. Not a good idea to give up that space as before you know it, foes will do an Aljon Mariano and have an easy layup inside the paint. Gotta toughen up inside, Vince.
The biggest question is – if they were historic last year, they have to be resilient and resourceful if they want to pull off the incredible this season.
La Salle Green Archers
Head coach: Juno Sauler (first year)
Season 75 record: 9-5, Final Four
Filoil record: 6-3
Key losses: Yutien Andrada, Jovet Mendoza, Joshua Webb, Jed Manguera, Mark Tallo, Papot Paredes, Ponso Gotladera
Additions: Robert Bolick Jr. (La Salle Greenhills), Kib Montalbo (St. John’s Institute Bacolod), Jason Perkins (Shekopee High School, Minnesota), Matt Salem (Lake Howell),
Projected starting five: Norbert Torres (center), Jason Perkins (power forward), Jeron Teng (small forward), Gab Reyes (shooting guard), Thomas Torres (point guard)
They are one of the most scrutinized and talked about teams especially after their late pre-season fall and changes. Can they make the final four or even win it all?
It is foolish to count them out. Never do that. One great game can turn everything around. Besides, the last time I checked, a pre-season title doesn’t guarantee an UAAP championship.
What should the Green Archers do if they want to get into the title race?
The Green Archers actually have a complete team even with only 13 players in the line-up. They have height in Nobert Torres, Arnold Van Opstal, and Jason Perkins. They’ve got gunners in Luigi dela Paz, Almond Vosotros, and Gab Reyes. They’ve got slashers in Jeron Teng and Oda Tampus. And they have a terrific point guard cadre in LA Revilla, Thomas Torres, Robert Bolick, and Kib Montalbo (Almond Vosotros can also man that court general position when need be).
So what’s the problem? In my opinion, it’s a crisis of confidence. They have a nice balance of veterans and talented newcomers. Teams wish they had a line up like this.
In the pre-season, they were a frightening juggernaut bowling over one team after another. Until they ran into Ateneo and San Beda that dealt them crushing defeats. But that’s the pre-season. You learn from that. What they have to put it together consistently and fire on all cylinders. When they accomplish that they’ll be rolling.
Jason Perkins is a massive addition down low. He’s not the tallest but he has a nose for that ball and he can put it in the hole. If he’s on, there’ll be no relief for opposing teams more so if AVO and Norbert are humming. How they play will be crucial to their campaign as we have seen that the UAAP is still a big man’s league.
You need me to expound? Jervy Cruz, Rabeh Al-Hussaini, and Greg Slaughter all led their teams to five of the last seven titles. Teams are loaded for bear up front to ensure domination of the paint – UST has Karim Abdul, FEU has Anthony Hargrove, UE has Charles Mammie (and we all saw what he is bringing to the table for the Red Warriors), NU has Jean Mbe and Alfred Aroga, and Adamson has Ingrid Sewa. The arms race is at the center position. AVO and Norbert Torres have to compete and go hard against these guys if they want a fighting chance.
Jeron Teng in only his first year was as close to becoming the King Archer. However, his inexperience saw him give way at times. Luckily for La Salle, Almond Vosotros is clutch. And that helps them in the endgame. They just have to be consistent about it.
With Juno Sauler at the helm, and with his experience in the college and pro ranks, it’s a plus that no one has scouted them. What everyone knows is they were a solid defensive team last year. They have to continue with that mindset if they want to continue to compete.
However, it is as I said, you cannot count them out. They’ll be in the thick of things.
Head coach: Nash Racela (first year)
Season 75 record: 9-5
Filoil record: 4-4
Key losses: Arvie Bringas, Russell Escoto, John Foronda, Mark Bringas, Jolas Guerrero
Additions: Joshua Aguilon (FEU-FERN), Jeson Delfinado (FEU-FERN), August Vince Denila (University of Visayas), Ron Dennison (Southern City Colleges), Joel Lee Yu (FEU-FERN), Jovanie Luz (FEU-FERN)
Projected starting five: Anthony Hargrove (center), Carl Cruz (power forward), Rey Belo (small forward), RR Garcia (shooting guard), Mike Tolomia (point guard)
As new coach Nash Racela, it is best that for once, they are approaching the season without top seedings. It’s not to underplay this team that on any given day can light it up even with all their loses in personnel.
One might be tempted to ask if the Tamaraws’ braintrust was slack in their recruiting. Actually, no. They have added a few pieces to their puzzle every year for the last few years – Roger Pogoy, Arvie Bringas, Anthony Hargrove, and Rey Mark Belo. Not so bad, right?
Then they have their kids from the juniors title team (sans Jerie Pingoy and Roger Domingo). What they didn’t anticipate was losing Arvie Bringas because of management’s disenchantment with his attitude that cost them a few games last season as well as Russell Escoto who is out for the year with a knee injury.
With a depleted Ateneo team, the race for the basketball crown is wide open. FEU although their situation in some ways mirrors Ateneo’s (guard-driven) has a chance as well.
Now how do they make it to the Final Four?
1. The Tamaraws’ game is now in the hands of their guards and they have three of the best in the business in RR Garcia, Terrence Romeo, and Mike Tolomia. The question in the past several seasons is can all three make sweet music together?
Whatever chemistry problems among the three they may have, one of their bright spots during the summer was the emergence of Tolomia. One of the three will have to come off the bench to provide firepower.
In case anyone was watching, Garcia seems to have recovered his UAAP MVP form late in the pre-season. I think he’s found his groove again.
Their guards’ understanding and acceptance of their roles is crucial to this season’s success.
2. For all their guards’ firepower, they need to integrate Anthony Hargrove in the mix.
The Tamaraws do not have much inside. Christian Sentcheu is a good locker room leader. He always tries to do his best on the court even if limited. But they’ll need monster productions from Hargrove for them to have a fighting chance. During the summer, he looked lost with their new offense that is really predicated on guard play. In the previous season, at times, the ball would go down to either of the Bringas brothers to let them create.
Hargrove isn’t the creative sort as he needs to be fed that ball. Although he has shown a deft touch when it comes to drop passes. He’ll need to open up that lane for Garcia and Tolomia. Romeo is no problem. He’s a one-man arsenal who can light it up.
Racela must also count on Carl Cruz, Gryann Mendoza, Roger Pogoy, and Belo to provide points in the paint.
3. Their nine-man rotation is solid. They need to bring it or else that will force Racela to dig deep into his bench. Hopefully, their kids can find playing time as well that will bolster their drive to the playoffs.