ASIDE from losing several key players to graduation, having only three months of preparation will be University of Santo Tomas’ main cause of concern as the season hosts is seeking to remain as one of the elite teams in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament.
Runners-up in three of the last four years, the Growling Tigers hope to make it all the way this time around and end a decade-long championship drought under new coach Boy Sablan.
“Yung improvements, maganda kasi yung mga players, na-adapt sa system na gusto ko. Matatalino naman ang mga bata. Kaya lang limited time, unlike sa ibang teams matatagal na,” said Sablan, who took over from Bong dela Cruz last summer.
Kevin Ferrer, Ed Daquioag and Karim Abdul have already completed their playing eligibility, while UST will also miss the services of playmaker Jamil Sheriff, who will no longer suit up this season for going over the league’s age limit.
Louie Vigil and Kent Lao will lead the way for the Tigers, while sophomores Renzo Subido, Embons Bonleon and Marvin Lee are expected to get maturity in their game.
“Mahirap, pero we are prepared. But we are gunning for a Final Four slot,” said Sablan, who has four rookies in the roster in Ghana’s William Afoakwah, Tsutomu Tateishi, Oliver de Guzman at Jason Strait.
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(UST Quadricentennial Pavilion Arena)
2 p.m. -- Ballroom Dance Competition
5:30 p.m. -- Opening Ceremony/Concert
UNIVERSITY of Santo Tomas is pulling all the stops for today’s UAAP Season 79 opening day rites, which has the theme “Dare to Dream”.
“It will be very simple opening ceremonies this year,” said UAAP Season 79 president Fr. Ermito de Sagon.
Veering away from the traditional “palabas”, this is the second time that the league’s opening rites is separate to the season opener of men’s basketball since 2011, when Ateneo held the ceremonies at the Marikina Sports Park.
Prior to the opening ceremonies which is scheduled at 5:30 p.m. at the historic Plaza Mayor, the UAAP will hold its first-ever ballroom dancing competition at 2 p.m. at nearby UST Quadricentennial Pavilion Arena.
Introduced this season as a demonstration sport, all schools, except for Far Eastern University, are participating in the ballroom formation event.
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Far Eastern University, which bested UST in last year’s classic championship series, is also on a rebuilding mode with the departure of most of its starters.
Vying for a record 21st championship, the Tamaraws will be without Mac Belo, Mike Tolomia, RR Pogoy and Richard Escoto, who all have been instrumental in ending the 10-year title drought.
For coach Nash Racela, his team is ready to face the challenges this season.
“I think, FEU has always like that, under the radar, especially in the last couple of years. Personally, I like that, ayoko namang lagi kaming pinag-uusapan,” said Racela.
“Kami okay rin na ganito, tahimik lang. Let our performance speaks for ourselves,” he added.
The Tamaraws will now be led by holdovers Raymar Jose, Ron Dennison, Prince Orizu, Richard Escoto, Ken Holmqvist and Monbert Arong. Axel Iñigo, formerly of Adamson, will be one of FEU reserves in the backcourt to replace his older brother Achie.
Seeking to regain the crown it won in 2014, National University has a lot of materials to mix it up with consensus title favorite La Salle.
With bullstrong Alfred Aroga expected to get healthy as the season progresses after sustaining a leg injury last summer and Jjay Alejandro taking over the leadership from Gelo Alolino, and talented transferees in Matt Salem and Matthew Aquino, expect the Bulldogs to be on the prowl.
“Very exciting and at the same time, very challenging. We have a good mix of eight holdovers and eight rookies. We’ll really work hard this season and live up to our core values,” said NU coach Eric Altamirano.
“I feel that with our personnel, we will able to maximize their strengths,” he added.
JV Gallego and Joshua Sinclair, formerly of the Batang Gilas program, are hoping to make an immediate impact on their rookie year for the Bulldogs.
How about Ateneo?
With Kiefer Ravena and Von Pessumal already gone, the young Blue Eagles are trying to do well in a crowded Final Four race under national coach Tab Baldwin.
“Our goal is to have a team that will live up to our motto of ‘One big fight’,” said Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga.
Thirdy Ravena, Kiefer’s younger brother, will banner the Eagles along with Aaron Black, Chi Ikeh, Adrian Wong, Vince Tolentino and Matt Nieto, as the Katipunan-based cagers try to surpass their third place finish last season.