National University is supposed to be the defending champion in the Fr Martin Cup summer tournament. Unfortunately the Bulldogs of head coach Eric Altamirano have declined the invitation to join the 18th edition this year. In yet another twist of fate, even the runner-up from last summer, Mapua Tech, is also not competing in this year’s tournament. This marks perhaps the first time in many years that the two teams that disputed the title in the previous tournament are not seeing action.
That means the title is officially up for grabs among the 16 teams who will do battle in the hardcore gyms of Manila.
Group A: Group B:
Adamson University Ateneo De Manila B
Ateneo De Manila A Far Eastern University
Jose Rizal University De La Salle University
Lyceum Manila Letran College
Fatima University Informatics International College
STI College Philippine Merchant Marine School
University of the East Trinity University
University of the Philippines Perpetual University
By the looks of it, Ateneo A should have a heck of an advantage over all of the other teams in the field. Coming off a historic 4-Peat title run in the UAAP, the Blue Eagles return the same core of 7-foot center Greg Slaughter, reigning UAAP Rookie of the Year Kiefer Ravena, Season 75 Finals MVP Nico Salva and backup big man Justin Chua. Veterans Oping Sumalinog, Juami Tiongson, Tonino Gonzaga and Frank Golla also return, giving the Blue Eagles unmatched experience across the board.
More than the returning veterans though, the Blue Eagles are hoping to give good minutes to their younger players, like 6-foot-1 swingman Von Pessumal and 6-foot-3 forward Gwynne Capacio. Pessumal was a former RP Youth Team member and was an integral part of the grand slam title reign of the Ateneo High School along with Ravena. Capacio was also a former UAAP junior division champion with La Salle Zobel. “We hope to give some experience to the younger players on the team during the summer,” explained head coach Norman Black. “We really want to develop the younger guys like Von and Gwynne so they’ll be ready to step up when the veterans graduate,” he added.
Far Eastern University, the team the Ateneo beat in their last two championship runs are expected to challenge the Blue Eagles for the Fr Martin Cup title. For the Tamaraws though, everything hinges on how star guards Ryan Roose Garcia and Terrence Romeo will play together. Garcia and Romeo did not seem to be on the same page in the last UAAP season, especially in critical stretches of the Finals against the Ateneo. Romeo has a well-documented tendency to dribble away half the shot clock when the ball is in his hands, taking precious opportunities away from the quick-hitting Garcia.
Without Garcia, the Tamaraws were handily beaten by San Beda in the semifinals of the last Fr Martin Cup Open Tournament at the Trinity gym. While Romeo found the range from the three-point arc, he also found himself forcing the action on the driving game against the tall timber of San Beda. “That only goes to show how important Garcia’s steadiness is to FEU,” noted one long-time player scout.
FEU may have the most talented guards in the UAAP but they won’t be relying solely on their perimeter game to get through the summer. FEU will have 6-foot-4 banger Arvie Bringas, younger brother of veteran Tamaraw Mark Bringas to bolster their frontline. Arvie Bringas, out of San Sebastian high school, was originally recruited by La Salle but spent only one season with the Green Archers. Another former San Sebastian high school star will be debuting for the Tamaraws in summer league action, multi-talented 6-foot swingman Gino Jumao-as.
All of the current Tamaraws will have to pick up production with the departure of key cogs Aldrech Ramos, JR Cawaling and Ping Exciminiano. Guard Mike Tolomia should get more minutes in relief of and alongside Romeo and Garcia. If Tolomia can find his niche in the FEU scheme of things he could become the best third-guard in the UAAP.
Letran is another team looking to make some noise in this tournament. They challenged San Beda for the Open Conference title just a couple months back, falling short against the deeper and bigger Red Lions. With a veteran roster long on defensive toughness, the Knights might just have what it takes to go toe to toe with the two powerhouses from the UAAP.
Guards Kevin Alas and Mark Cruz will lead the attack for the Knights. Alas makes up about half the offensive output for Letran in any given game. Cruz can get into the gut of any defense and pull up for his patented lean-in jumper.
They will be ably backed up by 6-foot-7 center Raymond Almazan (if he remains a Knight), 6-foot-4 forward Jonathan Belorio, 6-foot-3 center-forward June Alas and 6-foot-1 swingman Kevin Racal. Defense will be key for the Knights of head coach Louie Alas, and these are exactly the type of men he will need to get that job done. “We can’t really compete in terms of offense with every team, but we can always count on our tough defense,” Alas said.
All of the other teams in this field will have to play catch-up, including Ateneo’s own B Team. UE and UP might have an outside chance of an upset or two along the way. UP is returning a lot of its own veterans that were not around for Season 74. Adamson might also be in the conversation, but replacing their talented backcourt of Jeric Canada and Lester Alvarez will not be easy. It should be safe to bet that the Top 3 in this tournament are assured of seeing each other in the Final 4. Ateneo A and FEU are looking like a lock to dispute the title.