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In Your Face!

Let's talk balls.

  1. Expectations III

    Expectations: NU is yet another team struggling with huge talent losses over the last couple of seasons. It doesn't help that sophomore forward Josh Sinclair got injured, and that prize recruit JV Gallego is still on their B Team for unspecified reasons.

    That leaves the main burden of carrying to team to veteran guard Rodolfo "JJ" Alejandro Jr, and he has done all he can to keep NU's boat afloat in Season 80. He's gotten some help from forward Matt Salem, the stretch 4 who transferred from La Salle, 6-8 import Issa Gaye and 6-7 center Matthew Aquino, son of PBA legend Marlou.

    But there just isn't enough talent across the board to make a contender of the Bulldogs, who are only three years removed from their last UAAP Championship, a title that was 60 years in the making. Alejandro and Gaye are among the league's MVP contenders, but they've gotten erratic support from the rest of their guys.

    "It is all about consistency, and right now we have a lot of work to do on that," said head coach Jamike Jarin in one interview after their Round 1 loss to league-leading Ateneo. Jarin is trying to play his usual frenetic style with the Bulldogs, but it seems this isn't quite working out at the Senior Division as well as it did in the Junior Division, a knock on him that carried over from his two seasons over in the NCAA as the head coach of the San Beda Red Lions.

    NU needs to try and put some kind of win streak together, but that may be easier said than done considering everything going against them, from their relative youth to their lack of overall talent.

    Surprise: Enzo Joson has emerged as a pleasant enough surprise for Jarin and NU, as the former Ateneo Blue Eaglet has had some nifty games for the Bulldogs. Not bad for a kid who used to play behind the likes of the Nieto Twins and Jolo Mendoza back in high school.

    Expectations: UE was tagged as the early contender for the basement of Season 80, and were it not for a late round win over UP, they may very well be in said basement right now.

    UE is the only UAAP team without an import, and it is supposedly a management direction, although the more veteran basketball observers have lain this squarely at the feet of head coach Derek Pumaren. UE did after all have an import when Pumaren arrived three years ago, 6-8 Bertrand Awana. Awana had already played in the offseason tournaments and was then eligible already to see action in the UAAP. Pumaren however decided to remove him from the program completely for reasons not quite fully explained.

    Since then the Warriors have gone All Filipino, not a bad thing per se, as La Salle and the Ateneo had done the same with some success in the earlier parts of this decade. But the huge difference was that both the Blue Eagles and the Green Archers of that time had truly superior local talent. UE right now has nowhere near that level of talent.

    In fact the only Warrior worth a mention right now is burly 6-2 forward Alvin Pasaol, a recruit from Cebu who was already showing glimpses of his star game last season. Pasaol unloaded 49 points, the second highest individual scoring output in UAAP history, in a tough loss against reigning champion La Salle. He followed that up with 32 points in that win over State.

    Sure, they have some other pieces, like Philip Manalang, Mark Olayon, Nick Abanto, Clark Derige, Jason Varilla, but seriously, outside of Pasaol there isn't one elite player among them, and even Pasaol isn't exactly in the same league as say former Warrior Kings James Yap or Paul Lee.

    Surprise: Alvin Pasaol can ball, and teams need to make sure he doesn't out up new career numbers on them.

    Expectations: How the heck can UST, with the talent on their roster, possibly be winless as of this writing. They are now 0-8 by the way, so they started out Round 2 the way they did Round 1, losing to State, this time by two points.

    Marvin Lee, Oliver De Guzman, JC Escalambre, Jordan Sta Ana, Reggie Basibas, Chris Garcia, Justin Arana, Jeepy Faundo, and 6-8 center Steven Akomo possibly go winless after eight friggin' games in a field this weak?

    Seriously, how many teams have locals with the quality size of Faundo and Arana, plus they have Akomo who is currently an MVP contender.

    At around the midpoint of the first round there were actually four (!) Growling Tigers among the Top 11 MVP contenders in the league. That was no typo: 4 out of the Top 11 MVP contenders came out of UST at some point in the first round of the eliminations. How then can anybody say they lack talent?

    Could the fault then all lie with head coach Boy Sablan? "Alam mo naman ako, I don't agree with your mentality about the coach being that important, tingin ko minimal impact ng coach sa team, pero sa kaso ng UST baka may punto ka," quipped Mr ...
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  2. Expectations II

    Expectations: There were already some rumblings in the offseason that the FEU Tamaraws would not be among the top contenders in Season 80, simply because they lost too much talent and no replacements came in.

    It was tough enough that the only legitimate superstar they had last season was hardworking forward Raymar "Toto" Jose, and to some extent guard Monbert Arong. They didn't even find replacements for those guys.

    Sure, two former Ateneo stalwarts had transferred and were now eligible to see action in Season 80: forward Arvin Tolentino and guard Hubert Cani, both of whom were high priority recruits coming out of the Junior Division. But after their so-so performances as Blue Eagles, at best a lot of the keener observers were saying this would probably amount to a "start from scratch" or "new beginning" for these two.

    They are also still trying to find their identity as a team with a rookie head coach in Olsen Racela. Some newcomers like RJ Ramirez had a great summer tournament but have not found much traction yet this season. Import Prince Orizu us still a handful in the lane but isn't really someone you can get the ball to and expect to produce at will.

    Surprise: That old saying about a good team always being good does not apply this season to FEU. There just isn't enough talent here to be considered a serious contender, for all the good they showed in the offseason.

    FEU always used to have very good forwards who made up solid front lines - Jose was the latest PBA D League MVP and now a Gilas Cadets mainstay and prospective Top 5 pick in the upcoming PBA Draft - but now it seems that era is over.

    Expectations: UP had arguably the biggest win this season when they upset reigning champion La Salle behind the 30-point explosion of veteran guard Paul Desiderio.

    Desiderio and UP started off their season with a heck of a finish versus UST, with Desiderio (again) providing the game-winning three-pointer, which he called in their last timeout.

    But their overall lack of proven star talent is showing. They put in 16 three-pointers, tying the UAAP record, when they beat La Salle. How often does that happen for any team? Certainly not often enough that you can count on it everytime.

    True enough the Fighting Maroons are a game under .500 with Desiderio and to some extent rookie transfer Jun Manzo doing most of the carrying.

    Surprise: That upset victory over La Salle ought to make their season already.
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  3. Expectations

    Here is how the UAAP Season 80 landscape looks like after the end of the first round of eliminations last weekend:

    Ateneo De Manila : 7 - 0
    De La Salle : 5 -2
    Adamson : 5 - 2
    Far Eastern : 4 -3
    National : 3 - 4
    State : 3 - 4
    University of the East : 1 - 6
    Santo Tomas : 0 - 7

    Some preseason expectations were met, some were not, and there were surprises all around.

    Expectations: Ateneo De Manila came into Season 80 a year older, wiser, and stronger, after an unexpected runner-up finish last season. They were supposed to be rebuilding last season, yet somehow they made it into the Finals, and became the only team to beat archrival and regining champion La Salle in the eliminations.

    They returned this season intact, and they are playing truly beautiful, team-oriented, system-based basketball. "I always emphasize proper spacing, and movement, and that is what we are trying to do every game," explained head coach Tab Baldwin in one interview.

    With the exception of their cardiac classic of a game to end the first round against the Green Archers, the Blue Eagles have indeed made a good living with Baldwin's spacing and movement, beating the six other teams by double digits. Sure there were some anxious moments, particularly when UST came within 80-81 in the fourth period of their encounter, but for the most part the Blue Eagles have just been a joy to watch for basketball technicians and students of the game.

    Thirdy Ravena, now in his fourth year in college, and his third playing year, is the undisputed leader of the team. While he struggled against La Salle, he has basically done as he pleased against everyone else, and at one point was averaging a double-double. He remains in the Top 10 in the MVP race.

    Surprise: As good as the Ateneo was expected to be, even their most ardent fans probably did not expect them to sweep Round 1. They now have an even larger bulls eye on their collective backs going into Round 2.

    Expectations: La Salle is the reigning champion and as long as the mighty Benoit Mbala is on their roster they remain the prohibitive favorites to win back to back titles.

    Lets face it, Mbala is the best player the UAAP has ever seen. Ever. He is not only big, strong, fast, and athletic, but all of his skills are at very high levels. Heck, the man just came back from the FIBA Afrobasket tournament after emerging as the leader of a veteran Cameroon squad. He led his country to the quarterfinals, quite a feat for a guy who is not even on any NBA radar. Well... he WASN'T on any NBA radar in any event.

    Mbala also enjoys a very good support crew, albeit one whose core players are on the young side and sometimes how their youth at inopportune times, such as that inexplicable meltdown against State U. Aljun Melecio, who up to that point was La Salle's best complement to Mbala, scored only five points, while the La Salle defense allowed UP star Paul Desiderio to light them up for 30, built on six treys.

    Melecio was sorely missed in their other loss, the one to the Blue Eagles, as no one proved capable enough to play off Mbala. Ricci Rivero had 19 points in that loss but it was mostly off his own strong moves to the basket.

    "Mayhem got exposed to System," quipped long-time basketball observer and former varsity coach Alan Taule.

    La Salle was the one who was supposed to sweep Round 1. They may yet turn the trick in Round 2.

    Surprise: That loss to UP. Maybe it was one of those games where all the stars just seemed to align for the Fighting Maroons. For Mbala though, "We have to be more consistent, to play our game, and to play our defense." He was practically screaming to Melecio and Rivero to get him the ball, "I have (the) mismatch!" he screamed practically all game.

    Expectations: Adamson was supposed to be a legitimate contender this season, and with their slow start (Ateneo walloped them, so did La Salle) they looked like they were stuck in second gear.

    They are similar to the Ateneo in that their team returned virtually intact, and their key players are all a year older. Unfortunately it seems as if they did not actually grow wiser, or stronger. That is a yes and a no.

    There are times this Adamson team seems like they didn't really show much improvement, as in how they played last year is still how they play this year, for the most part: Jerick Ahanmisi is still primarily a jump shooter, Philip Manalang is a feisty, crafty point guard who can score in bunches from time to time, Sean Manganti and Simon Camacho are long, tall, athletes who occasionally show flashes of brilliance and exploit mismatches. Import Papi Sarr still does his best work within five feet of the basket and is still iffy from the freethrow line. ...
  4. What Are They Doing, Really? Part 1

    Mr Libog treat my self and my wife to lunch over the weekend.

    As is the usual practice, talk at our table centered mainly around basketball, specifically recruitment.

    "Malapit na Fil Oil ah," he stated, referring to the Fil Oil-Flying V Premiere Cup, the summer basketball tournament organized by the local petroleum company that bears the same name.

    I nodded, knowing this tournament would begin after the Holy Week, so it was only about a week or two away.

    "Sino mga bago natin?" he inquired, referring to who the new players might be on our varsity roster.

    I shrugged. Apart from transfer student Gab Reyes, and two players who failed to make the last season's regular roster for different reasons, I actually had no clue who any of our new talent (if any) there might be.

    I told him about Reyes, and the other two guys: Tyler Tio and Gian Mamuyac. He was of course familiar with all three, since we had followed their developments even as far back as their high school days. I said they were doing well in the offseason tournaments like the Fr Martin Cup and the Milcu Got Skills Challenge Cup.

    He didn't sound too impressed. "That's it?"

    I nodded.

    "So what we have is an athletic forward who Lord only knows has been doing what the last couple of years we haven't heard a thing from him, a guy who should have been lined up last season were it not for paperwork that had nothing to do with his game, and another guy who we both agreed should have been lined up ahead of at least three other guys who didn't actually do shit for us last season. Would that be accurate?"

    I nodded again. Although I did add that at least we're getting three guys who aren't total greenhorns and who could come in and play right away within the system of the team and the coach, which is always valuable.

    "Valuable, yes, but doesn't guarantee us a title does it?" he asked, rhetorically as usual.

    My wife was busy putting fried rice, squid heads, beef, broccoli, tofu, and clams on our plates while we were engrossed in our little discussion. It pays to marry the right woman, I tell you. She will make sure you can keep enjoying a good meal without having to skip a beat in your in-depth basketball conversation.

    I said that with Reyes, Tio, Mamuyac we would have a better perimeter now, that can provide firepower, defense, experience, and much-needed speed.

    "I hardly think Tyler and Gab will provide speed, only Gian is a natural runner in that bunch. You are correct though that Tyler can provide additional firepower, Gab too, because Gab I think is a better shooter than Thirdy Ravena. But then again Gab might be what, in his fourth year in college by now, dapat lang naman sigurong gumagawa na siya, athletic naman siya, may pukol, sa edad niya dapat lang naman kaya na niya gumawa. So once again we have to thank Lasalle for another guy they couldn't use, because now he gets to play in a blue uniform," he expounded.

    "Alam mo totoong tanong diyan: ano ba ginagawa nung mga tao na dapat naghahanap ng talent para sa team? Bakit pa sila pinapasweldo? Troy Mallilin hindi nakuha. Justin Baltazar hindi nakuha. Ricci Rivero hindi nakuha. Aljun Melecio hindi nakuha. Lahat ng mga players na gusto ko, 'yun ang mga hindi nila nakuha. Wala na ngang clearance na kailangan, wala na ngang residency, hindi pa din natin sila nakuha."

    "So sino-sino ba mga nakuha natin? Mga good students? Kung good students kailangan natin huwag na natin padala sa US ang team tuwing summer, magtayo na lang sila ng separate scholarship fund specifically for good students who make the basketball team. OK lang naman kung ganun ang gusto nila eh, pero pupusta ko lahat ng yaman ko, never mananalo ng UAAP championship ang team na good students ang lahat ng players. No way," he declared.

    So was he saying we would have a losing season?

    "Far from it, I think we will return to the Finals at the very least, where once again our problem will be how to match up against (Benoit) Mbala. Sino pantatapat natin sa kanya, sina (Chibuezee) Ikeh at George (Go) na naman? Hindi porke nakapalag tayo kahit papano last year ganun-ganun lang magagawa natin ulit 'yon this year."

    "We can be thankful na wala na si Jeron (Teng), and he really is a big loss for them, kasi hindi ganun kadali replace ang scoring at veteran leadership niya. Kaya lang papano kung mag-step up naman sina Baltazar, Ricci (Rivero), Melecio, makabalik din ng maganda 'yung Gboy Gob, or maka-contribute right away 'yung Troy (Mallilin), talented players lahat ang mga 'yon ha."

    "Pero sabihin na lang natin na lahat nung mga locals nila hindi gumawa as expected, andiyan pa din si Mbala eh, at 'yon walang katapat sa buong liga. So papano na tayo niyan?"

    We ...
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