UAAP: After historic title, is a dynasty next for UP?

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 24 2022 01:41 PM

UP head coach Goldwin Monteverde celebrates after their victory against Ateneo in Game 3 of the UAAP Season 84 Finals. UAAP Media.
UP head coach Goldwin Monteverde celebrates after their victory against Ateneo in Game 3 of the UAAP Season 84 Finals. UAAP Media.

MANILA, Philippines -- The University of the Philippines (UP) ended nearly four decades of futility in UAAP Season 84, when they dethroned Ateneo de Manila University to claim the men's basketball championship.

Ateneo ruled the UAAP from Season 80 to 82, but the Fighting Maroons smashed their aura of invincibility as they ended the Blue Eagles' 39-game winning streak, then defeated them in the best-of-3 finals, two games to one.

Having ended their Katipunan neighbors' dynasty, is it now UP's turn to create a long reign of their own? Head coach Goldwin Monteverde is hesitant to make any promises in that regard.

"Ngayon, champion kami ng Season 84," the soft-spoken mentor said in a recent appearance on "Power and Play. "When Season 85 starts, it's another challenge for the team."

Monteverde, who steered UP to the championship in his first season as head coach, told former PBA commissioner Noli Eala that they will keep the mentality that led them to victory in Season 84.

That is, a "one game at a time" mindset, with a focus on improving regardless of the result. UP finished the elimination round with a 12-2 win-loss record, losing their first game against Ateneo and then absorbing a shock loss to Adamson University in the second round. 

Along the way, they battled through several close calls against the likes of De La Salle University and Far Eastern University, which paid off for the Fighting Maroons in the finals series. The UP players had no fear of the moment in crunch time, with point guard JD Cagulangan embodying their fighting spirit as he drilled the championship-winning three-pointer at the buzzer in Game 3.

The UP Fighting Maroons lift the trophy after their triumph against the Ateneo Blue Eagles in the UAAP Season 84 Finals. UAAP Media.
The UP Fighting Maroons lift the trophy after their triumph against the Ateneo Blue Eagles in the UAAP Season 84 Finals. UAAP Media.

"We took it a game at a time, every time na maglalaro kami," said Monteverde. "We would look at 'yung mga, ano ba ang mga mistakes natin, ano ba pwede nating pagandahin? Even sa mga wins na nakuha namin, we would try to find ways of how to improve as a team."

"Ang dami rin naming mga close games eh, which for me helped a lot, especially going toward sa Final 4 and sa finals. Natuto kami mag-work as a team even sa mga pressure situation," he explained. "Natuto kami na, kumbaga mapatibay pa ang aming depensa, when talaga needed, at the times na kailangan talaga dumiin 'yung depensa namin."

"If you're gonna compare 'yung first game hanggang sa last, sobrang layo na talaga ng in-improve ng team."

Monteverde wants his players to carry these lessons to Season 85, where they will feature a mostly intact lineup. Only Ricci Rivero and team captain Noah Webb will leave the team; UP will still have Cagulangan, Finals MVP Malick Diouf, Rookie of the Year Carl Tamayo, and versatile swingman Zavier Lucero in the fold.

They will also add a high-profile recruit in Henry Galinato, a Filipino-American forward who transferred to UP from Benedictine University at Mesa. 

Asked if UP will be stronger in Season 85, Monteverde was again reluctant to provide a definitive answer. But he assured that the character displayed by the Fighting Maroons in their run to the Season 84 title will remain.

"Masasabi ko lang, ang UP lalaban 'yan, kahit kailan. Kumbaga, hangga't may laro, hindi titigil," he guaranteed.

"Exciting pa rin 'yung mga coming recruits, exciting pa rin 'yung darating na team. I'm sure, kung anong kultura ang na-establish naman ng mga previous players would continue on," he added.

With Cagulangan, Tamayo, and James Spencer taking on bigger leadership roles, Monteverde is looking forward to seeing how their Season 85 team will establish its own identity while building on what they achieved in a historic campaign in Season 84.

"We would take it as we took noong season [84]. As we go along as a team, we would just try to look for things to improve on. Paano palakasin 'yung team, paano maging consistent, and eventually, if good things happen, then dahil lang doon sa ginagawa namin," he said.