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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. "San Beda Na Naman 'Yan"

    That was what Mr Libog declared during our last dinner out at an up and coming Thai restaurant in our neck of the woods.

    "Honestly, sino tatalo sa kanila? Sino? Lyceum? Letran? Arellano? Sino pa," he rapidly asked away.

    Truth be told the Red Lions really do look like they can and indeed will win the Season 93 men's basketball championship of the NCAA, and that's just how it goes.

    Consider their rather successful off-season, practically traipsing through the Fil Oil Flying V summer tournament. Sure they had one or two close shaves, including the one-game championship game versus reigning UAAP champion De La Salle.

    But come the hell on, seriously, did San beda look like it was at any point worried that they would lose any game in the Fil Oil?

    "Tignan na lang natin ang roster nila, they have arguably the best college player now in the country, si (Robert) Bolick, tapos meron pa silang (Davon) Potts, (Arnaud) Noah, and that new guy (he couldn't quite remember Eugene Toba). Hindi pa nga naglaro si (Donald) Tankoua nung Fil Oil eh," he declared in between sips of the hot pot's broth.

    I reminded him that Lyceum has CJ Perez, the guy who he said was the best college player as of last year.

    "Last year 'yon, bago ko nakita ulit na maglaro ng seryoso si Bolick. Bolick now plays both ends eh. Magaling na nga gumawa, magaling pa dumepensa," he retorted.

    Then he remembered something I foolishly hoped he had forgotten.

    "Hindi ba nag-try out sa Ateneo 'yung Bolick? Bakit nga hindi kinuha? Dahil ba galing La Salle," he asked in rapid succession.

    I said it can't be because Bolick was a transfer from La Salle. The Ateneo already took in at least three former Green Archers in guard Nico Elorde, center Ponso Gotladera, and most recently forward Gabby Reyes. Although word has it that Reyes didn't pass academic muster at Loyola Heights and is once again looking for a new school.

    I could only surmise that when Bolick tried out that the Blue Eagles either had too many guys at his wing position, or he just wasn't the "type" of player the Ateneo wanted.

    "Ah ganun ba... so ang type ng Ateneo hindi 'yung magagaling. Kasi magaling si Perez, pinabayaan or inayawan or both, magaling din si Bolick, pina-try out try out pa pero hindi din kinuha. So the two best college players now mga ayaw ng Ateneo, ha-ha-ha!"

    Yes, he really did have a good laugh at that one.

    We were talking about who could beat San Beda, I reminded him.

    He was still kind of laughing, "Sira ulo ka ba? May nakikita ka bang tatalo sa Beda? Wala na 'yan, champion na ulit sila. Meron pa nga silang mga (Joe) Presbitero, (Radge) Tongco, (JV) Mocon, (AC) Soberano, (Benedict) Adamos. Sige nga, sino tatalo diyan? Lumpiat pa nga sa knaila si KMark (Carino) na inayawan din ng Ateneo. Talagang basta magaling ayaw ng Ateneo, ha-ha-ha!"

    I can't imagine how he can laugh while also partaking of the various grilled meats and shrimp, truly remarkable.

    "I'm sure naman may makakatisod sa kanila, maybe they will lose one game, maybe, tipong super init nung kalaban at super malas nila, pero other than that there is no way they can be beaten, no way," he insisted.

    "Sabi ko nga sa iyo simple lang naman ang basketball, basta llamado ka sa talent and experience sure panalo ka na. Kahit naman mga upsets like nung tinalo sila ng Letran two years ago, llamado naman sa talent ang Letran perimeter that time, and it was enough to get past Ola (Adeogun) and Art (Dela Cruz)."

    "Nakalaban naman ng Beda sa Fil Oil Finals malakas din, La Salle, na may Mbala, best import ever, so it all just makes sense, dapat lang naman na sila magkatapat sa Finals."

    So with the NCAA out of the way, how does he see us in the UAAP?

    "Mas magandang tanong 'yan, pero saka na, dessert muna tayo dun sa kabila."
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  5. What Are They Doing, Really? Part 2

    At our most recent lunch over the last weekend, Mr Libog was at it again.

    "O ayan, talo tayo sa Lyceum at UE," he said in between bites of crispy pata and long looks at the waitress of his favorite Filipino restaurant. "Biruin mo, sino ba naman ang Lyceum at UE para talunin tayo?"

    I said its only the off-season anyway, plus those were only one-basket losses, no big deal in the grand scheme of things. Plus a player or two who rode the pines last season are now getting some much needed burn.

    He just chortled, swallowing his umpteenth mouthful of the crispy pata. "Kahit na ba summer league lang, gano ba naman kalakas ang Lyceum at UE para talunin tayo? Kahit pa chamba, dalawang chamba 'yan ha, hindi ba nakakaalarma 'yan?"

    I don't really know with him, but the summer leagues, especially the Fil Oil, was never much of an indication of UAAP fortunes as far as I can tell. Lasalle swept the Fil Oil all the way to the championship last year, and then went on to win the Season 79 UAAP diadem as well. But taking a look over the last 10 years, there was never a co-relation between Fil Oil success and UAAP success.

    Even during the 5-Peat reign of the Ateneo, the Fil Oil and the Fr Martin summer tournaments were really just for tuning up for the regular UAAP wars. One might even say the annual US training junket of the Blue Eagles is actually more important in the team calendar, since they would willingly play daily games alternating between the Fil Oil and the Fr Martin just to keep in step with the schedules of those tournaments before they made off for the US. They would then come back just in time for the last few elimination games of the summer tournaments. More often than not they'd make the Finals of either or both tournaments. Heck they even won the now-defunct Nike Summer League in 2008, which was their springboard into the first of their five straight UAAP titles, and the launchpad for Rabeh Al-Hussaini's UAAP stardom.

    So, really, I don't know why Mr Libog was in such a tizzy.

    "Alam mo hindi naman kasi 'yan dapat nangyayari, kahit sa summer, 'yang matalo tayo sa mga patakbuhing teams. Seriously, mukha bang nagfa-Final 4 ang mga 'yan? So bakit tayo natalo sa kanila," he asked rather exasperatedly.

    I said these things were bound to happen. Even back in Magic's day, when the Clippers were a joke of a franchise (the days of Benoit Benjamin and Company), there was one time or two that they upset the Showtime Lakers. "Bilog ang bola," as Wang-bu, Jake Salazar, and other old soul Pinoy basketball sages would say.

    "Hindi kaya the actual fact of the matter is that sadyang mahina ang team natin? And if this is the case, papanong nagkaganun?" He was warming up to something, I could see the signs already.

    "Balikan ko lang 'yung pinagusapan natin dati. Magkano ba ginagastos natin sa team? Every year may US training hindi ba? May gumaling na ba diyan gawa niyang training na 'yan? Si (Frank) Golla ba naging Reynel Hugnatan man lang after niyang mga US training na 'yan? Si Juami (Tiongson) ba naging Terrence Romeo man lang? Hindi naman ah. Magkano ba gastos sa isang biyahe nila? Maybe P4 to 5 million? Just for that trip? Baka annual budget na 'yan ng UST or UE team. And yet in spite of that kind of spending we get beaten by Lyceum and UE. Granted its the off-season, but still." I was sure he wasn't done yet. He was in financial management / cost-benefit mode.

    "Kung ganun kalaki ginagastos mo hindi ba nakakahiya na ang team na hindi gumagastos ng ganun kalaki tinatalo ka? And I don't even buy that excuse that we don't take the off-season all that seriously. Assuming that to be true, during the 5-Peat years I don't think we ever opened the Fil Oil with back to back losses to shit teams. Even when we 'weren't taking this seriously', as you say."

    "So the only logical explanation is mahina ang team natin ngayon. Which brings us back to the question of bakit ba tayo humina. Hindi kaya humina tayo kasi may problema sa recruitment strategy natin? Do we even have a recruitment strategy? Or do we just see who happens to be the UAAP or NCAA Juniors, or Tiong Lian superstar of the moment and just go get that kid, not even thinking to much if he will continue being a star in college?" He's about to get to his usual point.

    "After the 5-Peat we just couldn't seem to get or to hang on to real talent, or we didn't know how to maximize them. Look at New (Chris Newsome). The two years he played he had to take a backseat to Phenom (Kiefer Ravena). Why? Have you seen what New is doing in the PBA? You think Phenom can dunk on an import in traffic? So why did Phenom get to chuck up 30 shots a game while New was second fiddle?"

    "We went out and got CJ Perez, at sa Fr Martin pa lang nagpakita na kagad siya, tapos hindi pala natin naalagaan sa aral. ...
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