Last season’s UAAP basketball tournament was one for the books. It saw the emergence of new powerhouses in University of the Philippines and Adamson, who gutted it out in a memorable playoff series. Meanwhile, former elite programs such as De La Salle and Far Eastern University took a step back.
More on college ball:
- Godfrey Okumu, the Lady Maroons, and the long and winding road to glory
- Different paths, same results: The Ravena Brothers and the road to UAAP immortality
- From Nigeria to 'Pinas: How Bright Akhuetie helped give the Maroons a fighting chance
- Nowhere to go but UP: musings of a hopeful Maroon fan
What will season 81, hosted by defending champion Ateneo de Manila, bring? Here’s our rundown of all eight teams:
University of the East Red Warriors
Season 81 record: 1 win, 13 losses
Returnees: Philip Manalang (Captain), Nick Abanto, Chris Conner, Jojo Antiporda
Additions: Harvey Pagsanjan, Alex Diakhite, Rey Suerte, Jed Mendoza, John Apacible
Key losses: Alvin Pasaol, Wilson Bartolome, Jason Varilla
Head coach Joe Silva is armed with a much experienced and talented squad compared to last season. There should be no more excuses this time. Or at least, not as many as last year.
The fact he obtained a commitment from Harvey Pagsanjan, one of the most prominent names coming out of high school, is a testament to how good his recruitment skills are. Pagsanjan, a 6-foot-1 guard from Hope Christian High School, is a skilled rookie with the ability to sink buckets on offense and collect rebounds on defense. He is shaping as the school’s future.
Aiding the rookie are fellow recruits that include burly forward and former Blue Eagle John Apacible, CESAFI MVP Rey Suerte, Fil-Kiwi Ritchi Rodgers, former JRU cager Jed Mendoza, and 6-foot-9 Senegalese player Alex Diakhite of Senegal. He is the school’s first foreign player since season 77.
Coming from Diliman College, Diakhite is determined to lead UE’s inside game with his moves and size. His presence can hopefully lead them to more wins than last year’s one, which came against a cold-shooting and lethargic Far Eastern University at the end of the first round. Newly minted team captain Philip Manalang is also in his last playing year for the red and white. He hopes to end on a higher note.
Fortunately for Manalang, Suerte and Mendoza are also ready to lead this team, after having ample experience from their college stints at the University of Visayas and Jose Rizal University, respectively. Suerte won three titles with the Green Lancers in UV, together with two MVP awards. Mendoza, meanwhile, was JRU’s leading scorer with 15.8 points and 5 boards per game in his final year for the Heavy Bombers in NCAA Season 94.
UE’s post-Alvin Pasaol era definitely has a chance to start better and brighter than in seasons past. It won’t be a walk in the park with the way other teams beefed up, but it still looks like a better start.
National University Bulldogs
Season 81 record: 4 wins, 10 losses
Returnees: Dave Ildefonso, Shaun Ildefonso (Captain), Issa Gaye, John Lloyd Clemente, Enzo Joson
Additions: Chino Mosqueda (returning), Migs Oczon, Robert Minerva
Key losses: Troy Rike, Dave Yu, Matt Aquino, Rev Diputado
Exactly a decade ago, the SM Group of companies gained control of National University and pumped much-needed blood into its sports program. This allowed their athletes to find the success they were searching for.
Their men’s basketball team was one of those who quickly turned their misfortunes around, culminating in 2014 when they bagged their first title in 60 years. But the squad has slowed down since. Though last season’s team was in fine form, game immaturity and inexperience hampered them. Injuries to key guys didn’t help their cause either.
Head coach Jamike Jarin is in his third season at the Sampaloc school. Prior to the past two UAAP seasons, he has not missed the Final Four. It’s hard to believe that a team he coaches can miss the playoffs. He’s been highly successful throughout his career. His stints with the Ateneo Blue Eaglets, Talk N’ Text and Meralco in the PBA, and the San Beda Red Lions have all led to titles.
This year looks more promising, based on their performance in the off-season. After finishing the PBA D-League with four straight wins, they went on to win the CityHoops tournament in the summer before bagging the Kadayawan Festival tournament title in Davao, beating De La Salle University.
Returning for this year’s tour of duty are outstanding talents Dave Ildefonso and John Lloyd Clemente. With Ateneo’s Thirdy Ravena graduating, the Bulldogs duo may become the two best wing players in the league the next couple of years.
The front line of Jonas Tibayan and Issa Gaye are still around to help with the rebounding and interior defense. Jarin believes that if Gaye can get back to his numbers from two seasons ago, they can really make a run this season.
Talented young bloods in the form of Migs Oczon and Robert Minerva will add that boost of energy to this squad. The captainship is given to both Shaun Ildefonso and the comebacking Chino Mosqueda, who’s set to be the team’s starting point guard. They will look to fill the void left by seniors Dave Yu, Rev Diputado, and Matt Aquino.
Last season, the team’s point of attack came mainly from Dave Ildefonso and Clemente. This year, the team knows that this isn’t enough, and that everyone needs to integrate themselves into the system. The foundation is already there, and, as coach Jarin points out, experience takes time.
University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers
Season 81 record: 5 wins, 9 losses
Returnees: Renzo Subido, CJ Cansino, Zach Huang, Ken Zamora
Additions: Soulemane Chabi Yo, Renz Abando, Mark Nonoy, Brent Paraiso
Key losses: Marvin Lee, Joshua Marcos, Steve Akomo, Tobi Agustin
Coming into last season, UST was eager to erase the two most forgettable seasons their men’s basketball team has had in history. They made great strides last year, and almost made it to the final four with a team made of sweet shooting guards. Tough bruising players in the middle, who were all taught to execute the vaunted Aldin Ayo full-court defense, also helped their cause.
Despite losing key seniors and highly-regarded rookies, head coach Ayo might have even better weapons at his disposal with the arrival of several names that played big in the offseason. He brought in one of his stretch forwards from his days in De La Salle with Brent Paraiso, who may be inserted as a starter right away. Paraiso was part of Ayo’s team that won the UAAP title in Season 79. He also got Renz Abando, who is one of the most athletic wings in the college game today.
Former UST Tiger cub Mark Nonoy remains in the team to form a great backcourt with the fifth year Renzo Subido. Nonoy was a triple-double machine back in the UAAP’s juniors, torching their opponents with his scoring, timely rebounds, and nifty passing. He proved he hasn’t missed a beat in their off-season tournaments, debuting with a strong 12-point, 4-rebound, 3-assist game in the PBA D-League against seasoned guys.
Finally, Beninese behemoth Soulemane Chabi Yo takes over from Steve Akomo as the team’s foreign recruit. The 6-foot-6 player posted averages of 20 points and 15 rebounds in the Universities and Colleges Basketball Legue when he played for Colegio De San Lorenzo. He was a force to be reckoned with in the D League, even posting a 32-point, 25-rebound game for the Growling Tigers.
Ayo’s team is made up of nine rookies, so their inexperience is likely to show. But with Subido, Ira Bateller, Enrique Caunan, Zach Huang, and team captain CJ Cansino, UST is still a darkhorse pick to make it back to this year’s playoff round.
UST has it all, from the scoring department, to patrolling the paint for boards, and playing suffocating defense from start to finish. It’s just a matter of Ayo getting everybody to buy in to his system, especially the rookies. And If they do so sooner rather than later, the rest of the league better watch out.
De La Salle University Green Archers
Season 81 record: 8 wins, 6 losses
Returnees: Aljun Melecio, Andrei Caracut (Captain), Justin Baltazar, Brandon Bates, Encho Serrano
Additions: Jordan Bartlett, Joel Cagulangan, Ralph Cu, Keyshawn Evans, Jaime Orme, James Laput
Key losses: Leonard Santillan, Ta’ane Samuel, Mark Dyke, Jollo Go
De La Salle is, arguably, still under a long stretch of transition and rebuilding. With the hiring of green-blooded coach Gian Nazario and consultant Jermaine Byrd, they’re getting a new coaching staff for the fourth time in four seasons.
The past few seasons have not gone as well as they hoped, both with its players and coaches. Still, La Salle knows how to keep in step with the rest of the field, even after losing a couple of talents that helped them taste success as recently as Season 79.
The Archers’ offense will still go through the trio of Melecio, Caracut, and Baltazar, who are all able ball handlers and scorers. These three know what it takes to succeed since their time in the juniors division, and will definitely be the team’s leaders as they try to make it back to the Final Four. Transferee Jordan Bartlett can relieve Melecio of his minutes at the point guard spot, as he is also capable of scoring at will and playing steady defense on the other end.
But what most consider to be the significant addition to this squad is the entry of three Fil-Ams: 6-foot Keyshawn Evans, 6-foot-7 Jamie Orme, and 6-foot-9 James Laput. All three are one-and-done players; Season 82 will be there first and last playing season, all having earned a bachelor’s degree from US universities. After NU fielded in one-and-done Fil-Am Troy Rike last year, other UAAP teams are slowly following suit.
After serving as assistant coach for UE last year, Nazario will work in tandem with Byrd, whose experience includes coaching gigs in the NBA G-League’s LA Defenders, Tulsa 66ers, and Sioux Falls Skyford. Nazario’s experience in the junior leagues combined with Byrd’s American coaching stints may go either way with this La Salle squad. There is no guarantee if this select group of Green Archers are enough to bring them back to the latter stages of the tournament.
Far Eastern University Tamaraws
Season 81 record: 8 wins, 6 losses
Returnees: Hubert Cani, Wendell Comboy, Barkley Eboña, LJ Gonzales, Ken Tuffin
Additions: Royce Alforque, Daniel Celzo, Anaclito Dulatre, Xyrus Torres, Emman Ojoula
Key losses: Jasper Parker, Arvin Tolentino, Prince Orizu, Axel Iñigo, Russel Escoto
In what may be the first time in more than a decade, the Tamaraws are not considered shoo-ins for the final four. The only time they missed the playoffs during this 10-year period was back in Season 75, where they lost in a knockout match for the fourth spot.
They lost the core of their front line in bigs Prince Orizu, Arvin Tolentino, and Russel Escoto. Without Orizu’s inside game and rebounding, coupled with the absence of Tolentino and Escoto’s shooting prowess, FEU is in a dilemma of how they can fill those holes for the squad. It doesn’t help that they their clutch backcourt players Jasper Parker and Axel Iñigo to graduation.
Head coach Olsen Racela lost a huge chunk of sound decision making, speed, and defense with these two gone.
It’s now up to fifth-year seniors Hubert Cani and Wendell Comboy to help this team keep their current final four streak alive. Coach Racela will likely give these two the green light to shoot from the outside while graduating player Barkley Eboña mans the paint. The hustling center has given this team the much-needed punch with his timely points and offensive rebounds for second chance buckets.
Team captain Ken Tuffin, now in his fourth year, needs to step up his all around game in addition to his long range jumper. He’s shown great flashes of how his scoring bursts can propel the Tams last year, and they’ll need more of that in Season 82. LJ Gonzales will be the first guard off the bench to relieve Cani and Comboy as he looks to provide steady playmaking and speed to this relatively young group. He is probably FEU’s brightest young star, with a stellar run in the juniors, which saw him lift the title and Finals MVP award in Season 79.
Several rookies are set to make their mark with for FEU, with bulky guard Royce Alforque, sharp shooter Xyrus Torres, and Daniel Celzo, who was plucked from the Tams’ B team. Travis Mantua from Ateneo de Cebu is also looking to make a good debut for the Tams.
Last but not least, Cameroonian Patrick Tchuente will replace Prince Orizu as the team’s designated big man. The 6-foot-10 player has been with school’s program since 2015, and has been playing behind Orize the past four UAAP Seasons. He finally gets his chance this year, where he can hopefully avoid the injury bug that has bitten him all throughout his collegiate stint.
It’s a long and tough road back for these Tamaraws. But if there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that this school will never go through a UAAP season without a fight.
Adamson University Falcons
Season 81 record: 10 wins, 4 losses (3rd Place)
Returnees: Jerrick Ahanmisi, Simon Camacho (Captain), Jerom Lastimosa,
Additions: Joem Sabandal, Lenda Douanga
Key losses: Sean Manganti, Papi Sarr, Jerie Pingoy, Jonathan Espeleta, CJ Catapusan
Shock the world. That’s what the Adamson Soaring Falcons did to open UAAP Season 81. And that’s how they almost ended it, too, just coming up two points short of making it to the UAAP Finals for the first time in decades.
Franz Pumaren’s San Marcelino team began last year with six straight victories, coming up just short of a first round sweep via an overtime loss to the Tamaraws. Right from the start, this squad showed that they did not fear anyone, not even the defending champion Blue Eagles. They defeated the Katipunan cagers in their first game. This, after being down by double digits, showing everyone how gritty and hardworking they can be as a unit.
The Falcons at certain times would flip a switch, turning a close game into a blowout in a matter of minutes. The patented Pumaren press still stymied teams no fail, and with the offensive prowess shown by Sean Manganti and Jerrick Ahanmisi, they immediately ran away from the competition with a lot of catch-and-shoot bombs.
This year’s Adamson roster may be facing some changes, with several names gone while promising rookies enter the fold. But with Pumaren at the helm, it doesn’t matter who the multi-titled coach fields in. He trusts that whoever he puts into the game will do whatever is asked.
Skippers CJ Catapusan and Jonathan Espeleta are gone, while seniors Papi Sarr, Sean Manganti and Jerie Pingoy have all used their playing years. But there will be some new names coming in who aren’t new to UAAP competition. Joem Sabandal and Aaron Fermin are two talented rookies who helped bring attention back to Adamson’s juniors basketball program. Another new face is Lenda Douanga who, after having served as their foreign player in the UAAP 3x3 tournament the past two seasons, joins the main basketball competition this time.
It will be a disappointment if Adamson does not make it back to the playoffs. Having Jerrick Ahanmisi back for his fourth year—as, hopefully, a better shooter and playmaker—can take this team to greater heights. If Ahanmisi did not catch the flu and suffer from cramps in last year’s final four series, it’s possible that they would have been the one in the finals.
Adamson will still be in the mix for the title in Season 82. It will be a grave mistake for the rest of the field to forget how lethal and formidable they are.
University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons
Season 81 record: 8 wins, 6 losses (2nd Place)
Returnees: Bright Akhuetie, Juan Gomez De Liaño, Javi Gomez de Liaño, Jun Manzo,
Additions: Ricci Rivero, Noah Webb (Captain), Kobe Paras, Jaybie Mantilla, Gboy Gob
Key losses: Paul Desiderio, Gelo Vito, Jarrell Lim, Diego Dario
The UP Fighting Maroons have never been as high as they are heading into a UAAP. Everyone is still hung over from last season’s Cinderella run, especially the student body and its reenergized alumni.
And they have a reason to. It’s not every day that a team who finished 2nd place gets the opportunity to bring in two blue-chip recruits. Ricci Rivero and Kobe Paras is at the core of the conversation. Both have showed they’ve got game since their high school days in La Salle Greenhills. Who would have thought back then though that both would find their way to UP a decade later? Both have different stories of their separate journeys. They actually don’t want to talk about that anymore. All they want to show is how grateful they are to be given another chance in basketball and life.
There’s no doubt that both will aid UP’s cause for a return trip to the title round and possibly win it all. But the team also added other names that can give opponents a little bit of trouble. Noah Webb returns after a one-year absence due to ankle issues, and takes on the role of captain. His length and motor will definitely be a big asset to this team.
And just like the rest of the field, they also have a one-and-done guy in Jaybie Mantilla, who finished his degree from the University of San Jose-Recoletos. Slated to be the back-up guard for Jun Manzo, Mantilla is taking a masters degree program to play in the UAAP for a lone season. Known for his grit and feisty demeanor on the floor, he looks to finally bag that college title as he came up just short in last year’s CESAFI Finals.
Head coach Bo Perasol has had a long and bumpy road so far in molding this team for the coming wars. Players suffered injuries, missed games, and missed trips. They only became complete in June, and is still in the process of figuring out their roster and team chemistry.
But, after last season, the team finally knows that it can win. It’s just a matter of time before it can lead to a title. As coach Bo stated during one practice session: “What matters is we have improved from where we were.”
Ateneo De Manila University Blue Eagles
Season 81 record: 13 wins, 1 loss (Champions)
Returnees: Thirdy Ravena, Angelo Kouame, Matt Nieto, Mike Nieto, Isaac Go
Additions: Jason Credo, Geo Chiu, Troy Malilin (returning)
Key losses: Anton Asistio, Aaron Black, Raffy Verano, Jolo Mendoza
Tab Baldwin has turned the UAAP into his playing ground.
His knowledge and experience put him in a class above everyone else in the league’s long list of past and present coaches. He almost worked his magic immediately with Ateneo’s men’s basketball team in his first year. Now in his fourth season with the Blue Eagles, he’s in position to achieve a three-peat, which will be the school’s first since the Norman Black era from 2008 to 2012.
Ateneo has finished with just a single loss in the elimination round each of the past two UAAP seasons. But as strong as their lineup many people expect it to be this year, they’ve also hit some bumps along the road.
They are set to lose a couple of vital cogs in the rotation, with Raffy Verano and Jolo Mendoza failing to make the cut for the required grades. Spot-up shooter Anton Asistio played out his final year while lefty Aaron Black decided to forego his fifth season to play semi-pro.
But the team is looking to cover up any chink in their armor with their incoming batch of rookies and returning faces. Jason Credo finally gets to strut his stuff in the seniors level after impressing everyone as a Blue Eaglet. The 6-foot-8 Geo Chiu may get several minutes this season, as they look to build him up as the future replacement for graduating Isaac Go. BJ Andrade may also get his number called up for crucial minutes on court.
Sophomore Matthew Daves, New Zealander Patrick Maagdenberg, and returning player Troy Malilin, who last saw action in the school’s Game 3 win against DLSU in the Season 80 finals, are also set to layer their already packed lineup. Ateneo is coming off impressive performances and outings in the pre-season. They won the PBA D-League title against Centro Escolar University despite missing key players, with the returning Angelo Kouame dominating the competition.
They spent 28 days away from the Philippines in international training camps. The Eagles first went to Greece where they trained twice a day, isolated in an island. After that they went straight to Melbourne, where they went up against a bunch of semi-pro ballers to be exposed to a different style of play.
If everyone had a tough time to get a win over this team last year, expect that assignment to be tougher in Season 82.
Final four prediction
Ateneo, UP, UST, and Adamson.
Tab will continue to work his magic, UP’s players won’t take anything less than a twice-to-beat edge, Ayo surprises everybody with his rookie-filled squad, and Pumaren continues to make a case as the best Filipino collegiate coach that we have right now.
As is the case every year, things can still go haywire, depending on the eligibility, injuries, and other issues that may arise. But if all goes well, these may be the strongest teams on paper to make it to the playoffs. It’s always tough to predict how UAAP college basketball will pan out, especially the past couple of years. Anything can happen—and that’s what makes this league great.
The UAAP basketball tournament officially begins on September 4, 2019 at the Araneta Coliseum.