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  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. ...
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  4. Will the Big Offseason Moves Pay Off in NBA 2017-2018?

    It has certainly been a very active offseason for a number of NBA teams. Some players have changed addresses, none more hyped so than Kyrie Irving's move to the Boston Celtics.

    Irving will have newly-minted superstar Gordon Haywood keeping him company in Boston.

    He isn't the only one of course. Isaiah Thomas, supposedly Boston's Next Legend, traded addresses with Irving and is now with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    Dwayne Wade has reunited with James in Cleveland in what is shaping up to be a super team of sorts. They also signed former MVP Derrick Rose out of New York.

    Paul George and Carmelo Anthony - who have 14 All Star appearances and a few Olympic gold medals between them - are now teammates. With reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, over in Oklahoma City.

    Chris Paul and James Harden are also teammates now, over with the Houston Rockets.

    Rudy Gay was signed - almost without fanfare - by the ever efficient San Antonio Spurs.

    Jimmy Butler rejoins his old coach Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota, where he will team up with rising stars Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony Towns.

    Golden State gave Steph Curry the biggest contract extension in NBA history with $201 million, only to have Oklahoma City top that by giving Westbrook his own extension for $205 million.

    And the season hasn't even started yet.

    So how do all these big moves translate into the actual season? Well, we'll have to wait and see when the actual season rolls around won't we?

    But still, as an academic discussion, let us see where this leads us, Praxedes...

    Undoubtedly the biggest development was the Irving-Thomas trade. It was basically an All Star trade, but as we have commented in this space, it seems the normally astute Danny Ainge gave up too much to secure the services of the 25-year old Irving.

    Aside from the 28-year old Thomas (who was coming off a career year) the Celtics also gave away backup big man Ante Zizic, two-way forward Jae Crowder, and most importantly, an unprotected first round pick in the 2018 Draft from the normally woebegone Brooklyn Nets. So yes, that is going to be a sure Top 5 pick come 2018.

    Granted Thomas probably won't be playing until January due to a hip injury, still, quite a package Ainge sent to Cleveland.

    Westbrook for his part not only got 200 million clams richer but he now has two other legitimate All Stars beside him. The usual takl is that there won't be enough touches and shots to go around for three of the best scorers in the league. It should be intersting to see what GM Sam Presti and head coach Billy Donovan have in mind other than running opponents into the ground.

    "The NBA landscape has changed and we need to change with it," Presti said in one interview. So from building through the draft he suddenly built a new super team.

    The same might be said for the Timberwolves, with the three young stars getting a chance to try and build a stronger team. "We want to be in a better position to win," said Thibodeau in one interview.

    Harden transformed into an elite point guard last season with career highs in assists and became a much better creator, especially on the drive and draw. Paul is also a top-tier point guard, which means Harden might be reverting back to his shooting guard position, and taking away his ability to create for his teammates, a job that will now fall to Paul.

    Gay will be playing alongside emergent superstar Kawhi Leonard, and both play similar games, mostly creating and scoring from the perimeter, although Gay should be able to slide easily into a super sidekick role for Greg Poppovich.

    All of this of course still boils down to whether or not anybody, including the reloaded Cavaliers, can knock Curry, Kevin Durant and the Warriors off their throne.

    Curry and Durant might have surprised a lot of observers and analysts when they actually played well together, but that means taking on the Warriors only became that much more difficult.

    As much as Oklahoma and Minnesota have improved, it doesn't look like they've improved enough to be a meaningful challenger to Golden State. It remains to be seen if the addition of Gay to San Antonio has given the Spurs the extra weapon they need against Golden State.

    All told it will make for a very interesting and exciting NBA season, one that hopefully will prove to be more entertaining than last season.

    It still looks like a Warriors-Cavaliers Finals, but hopefully the road to the NBA Title will prove to be a little more bumpy.
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  5. The Ugly Basketball Mercenary

    How precious is the Filipino citizenship of Juan dela Cruz?

    To many, it?s a badge of honor so sacred that he would even be so willing to die for his country.

    Let no one cheapen or trifle with the word ?Filipino.? It is priceless and not for sale to the highest bidder. You may sell your soul to other countries ? I don?t really care ? but do not do it here and insult the intelligence of nationalistic Filipinos by selling the country country down the river for several pieces of silver.

    It is in this scenario that I say: Good riddance to this ugly basketball mercenary. Sure you had played for the national flag for some time but you, too had been handsomely been paid for your services.
    But now, you have opted out of your national obligations for reasons that no sane hoops follower can fathom.
    Was it all about money? And without a contract? You want more moolah to suit up for the national colors after bankrolling $2.5 million in playing 30 games in five months for a Chinese professional team this past campaign? And because it was not here, you opted out?
    For security reasons? Scared because the FIBA Asia Cup (the precursor of the Asian Basketball Confederation then FIBA Asia Championship) is being held in war-torn Lebanon in the next two weeks (August 8-20)?

    An American, of which you truly are, is scared of setting foot on Lebanon soil? But are you not also a Filipino now by virtue of a ?quickie? naturalization act by Congress that cheapen the value of Filipino citizenship? You acquired Filipino citizenship on a silver platter even BEFORE you had first seen the light of day in the Philippines or eaten balut or adobo; you simply visited the Philippine embassy in New York to secure your naturalization papers there perhaps even believing you were going to be the Savior of Philippine Basketball.

    Some ordinary people who were born and lived here for decades needed some time and effort to obtain naturalized Filipino citizenship, but here is somebody who got one in a jiffy, simply for basketball?

    The Filipinos are a brave race. You only have to look up to our battle-scarred soliders out fighting local and foreign extremists in Marawi City for the past three months.

    And now it?s time that this basketball mercenary to show how Filipino you are, you chickened out. What a blast!

    So close to the 16-nation FIBA Asia Cup then this former NBA journeyman pulled the plug from the national team and left it with an empty bag.

    Sure, Filipino-German Christian Karl Standhardinger is his replacement as the team?s naturalized ?import? but I just wonder why the 6-7, 28-year Munich-born frontliner on the PH contingent, which placed fourth in the club-based 39th William Jones Cup competitions won by Canada last July, has been designated as our ?import? if he owned Filipino blood unless he did not declare any Filipino lineage before his 16th birthday, a FIBA policy to prevent teams from circumventing the one-naturalized-player-per-team rule.

    Basketball mercenaries have mushroomed all over the world because of FIBA?s decision to allow one naturalized player per team (it was two in the distant past). Show me your money and give me some love and I?m willing to play for your country without sacrificing my American (or other) citizenship. This is bastardized basketball at its worst.

    Unlike the aforementioned mercenary on the PH team, I like the attitude of his predecessor Marcus Eugene Douthit who, too, acquired Filipino citizenship through a quickie act of Congress. In the case of this 6-11 native of Syracuse, New York did not abandon ship. The Providen College product, who now plays for the Hanoi Buffaloes in the fledgling Thailand Basketball Super League (TBSL), was relieved by the national basketball federation following a four-year stint due to old age (he?s now 37 years old).

    This brings me to another point. If Douthit officially became a naturalized Filipino citizen on March 11, 2011, why did he have to play as an ?import? for Air21 Express in the professional Philippine Basketball Association league during the 2011-12 season?

    Was there a double standard committed? In the past, some players of Chinese descent who later became naturalized Filipino citizens (Fortunato ?Atoy? Co Jr., for example) also played in Asia?s first pro league but they were considered as ?local? players with no restrictions whatsoever. Is not the sauce for the gander also the sauce for the goose?

    Something is strange. I wonder aloud.
    Tags: 3, henry liao Add / Edit Tags
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