MANILA, Philippines - Basketball coaches from all 8 teams in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) are wary of the 73rd season.
Each team admitted that the combination of losing ace players after the previous season and the marked improvements of the other teams are major challenges to entering the Final Four.
According to Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) coach Norman Black, the Blue Eagles face major hurdles after seeing the improvements of other teams during the off-season competitions.
ADMU is the defending back-to-back champion.
"It will be difficult this year, all teams have improved. It's going to be tough," said Black. "We'll be competitive and improve as we go on.”
Even the "team to beat," the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws, is keeping low key but will still compete head on with reigning champion Ateneo.
"Sabi ng lahat, team to beat kami on-paper, pero para samin lahat lumakas, target lang namin bumlik sa finals," FEU coach Glenn Capacio shared.
"We are not as strong (as the previous season) but we'll still play good basketball and aim for the Final 4. We'll just try our best and pipilitin na hindi mag-repeat ang Ateneo," Capacio added.
Aim for the championship
For 2nd placer University of the East (UE) Red Warriors, there is nothing to aim for but the championship. The team was training in Davao and was unable to attend the press conference on Monday.
UE assistant coach Mark Herrera said, "As Coach Lawrence Chongson said, galing na kami sa Finals. Why go back?"
"Our team is probably the same; some very good players left but were replaced by very promising players,” he added.
The De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Archers, formidable 3 years ago, but was wiped out last season, remained low key as its apparent roster of starting players are what Coach Dindo Pumaren touted as the "youngest in the season."
For the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers, however, Coach Pido Jarencio remained modest.
"Happy kami na sa No. 8 kami sa list ng lahat, pag 1 to 7 puwede ka pa matisod eh, sa 8 dun ka lang, pagulung-gulong," he said.
"Basta tatandaan ninyo, suwerte ang dilaw ngayon," Jarencio quipped, earning laughter from the rest of the teams.
Penetrating closed doors
For "spoilers" Adamson University Falcons and National University Bulldogs, the aim is to be recognized as official "contenders" this season. Last season, the Bulldogs booted out the Green Archers in the Final Four while the Falcons managed to rank 5th.
"Happy kami with the 200% support of management. Basta kami we will give it our all and lalaban all the way," Coach Eric Gonzales of NU said.
"We want to penetrate closed doors. Hopefully maka-catch up sa system and gain that winning attitude," he added.
The Falcons are also optimistic, as summer league competitions proved Adamson to be "highly-improved," and the new players are better than the ones who left.
"The community of Adamson is very optimistic… as we performed well during the summer league," Leo Austria of Adamson Falcons said. "We were happy with our 5th place finish last year, but we think we have matured enough to finally make it to d Final 4."
Coach Aboy Castro of the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons shared that the team will also go "all out" to be in the Final Four.
"It's general consensus that FEU and Ateneo are up there. It will be tough to get into the 3rd and 4th slot," he said.
Despite the unassuming round-up of the coaches in their team's capabilities, the UAAP Board is looking forward to a very "competitive season."
"Although the obvious wariness from the coaches, we see a very competitive season," said UAAP President Bro. Bernand Oca, FSC of DLSU.
Likewise, changes had been made in the upcoming UAAP season.
Aside from fielding competitive referees from the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, the UAAP team is also preparing a Code of Ethics for the fans that will be handed out to participating schools.
"We will have a code of conduct for the fans. If they break this and become unruly, security will escort them out (of the games)," Bro. Oca said. He also maintained that the committee will be "very strict" and "limit fan behavior" by giving out protocols.
The committee is also adding a street dance competition during the closing ceremonies to encourage more students to watch. Bro. Oca shared that less spectators attend the closing ceremonies, where players are awarded for their performance.
The committee will also name a Campus Hero of the Year in the awarding, aligning with this season's theme, “Where Heroes are Made.”
The UAAP games will officially open on Saturday, July 10, at Araneta Coliseum, hosted by the DLSU. Games will be aired on Studio 23 and Balls HD. There will be replays on Balls Channel 34. The games will also be available online on studio23.tv while the best of 3 Finals will be aired live on ABS-CBN Channel 2.