MANILA, Philippines -- After SJ Belangel and RJ Abarrientos left their respective universities earlier than expected to turn professional, is Carl Tamayo next?
The University of the Philippines (UP) big man earned Rookie of the Year honors in UAAP Season 84, where he was an integral part of the Fighting Maroons' run to their first title in nearly 40 years. He was again called up to the national team, and played in the FIBA Asia Cup as well as the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers.
Tamayo also joined UP in a trip to South Korea, where they played a handful of Korean Basketball League (KBL) teams in tune-up games.
After Belangel and Abarrientos signed with KBL teams in the offseason, it was inevitable that UAAP fans would wonder if Tamayo would also leave UP early to turn pro.
UP fans need not worry yet, however.
"As of now, I'm just focusing on UP, trying to help the team to win the championship again. 'Yun lang naman," Tamayo said during the UAAP Season 85 press conference on Wednesday, when asked of the possibility of him turning pro early.
"Playing abroad, I'll never close my door naman to play abroad," he quickly added. "But I think for now, I'm here in UP, to play in UP."
Belangel still had at least one more season of eligibility for Ateneo de Manila University, but instead became the first Filipino to join a KBL team when he signed with the Daegu Korea Gas Corporation Pegasus.
Abarrientos, for his part, played just one season for Far Eastern University before making the jump to Ulsan Hyundai Mobis.
In the NCAA, Rhenz Abando left Colegio de San Juan de Letran after just one season to sign with Anyang KGC.
Though playing abroad is not yet in his immediate plans, Tamayo learned a lot from his international basketball experience in the offseason. Their trip to South Korea, in particular, was instrumental in their preparation for Season 85.
"When you go to other countries and play 'yung brand of basketball na meron sila, 'yung culture na meron sila, talagang iba. 'Yun 'yung malaking bagay sa amin. We try to adopt the good culture that they have," said Tamayo.
"The team, na-realize ng team how far pa 'yung mga bagay na kailangan namin pag-trabahuhan para dumating kami sa level ng mga nakalaban namin. But after ng Korea trip namin, marami kaming natutunan. I think we improved as a team, and as individuals," he added.
Catch replays of UAAP Season 84 games via the UAAP Varsity channel on iWantTFC, available for Premium users outside the Philippines.