Nip-and-tuck UAAP Season 76 gets going SaturdayBy Mark Giongco
MANILA, Philippines – Expect a tight race for the men’s basketball tournament title in the 76th Season of the UAAP which opens this Saturday.
From veteran coaches Leo Austria of Adamson and Pido Jarencio of University of Santo Tomas to rookie mentors Nash Racela of Far Eastern University, Juno Sauler of De La Salle and Bo Perasol of Ateneo with a level playing field this year, any team can beat anybody.
“This Season 76 will be an exciting season. Any team can beat any team. I’m excited because my team has the opportunity to win the title and at the same time I’m nervous because any team can beat us,” said Austria, who is in his seventh year as coach, during the league’s press conference Tuesday at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
“It’s going to be an exciting year. The teams are balanced,” echoed Sauler, who replaced Gee Abanilla in the sidelines just recently.
The coaches though are varied on which teams are this year’s top contenders.
“Every team can contend but the two strongest teams are NU and UE,” cited Perasol, whose squad is gunning for its sixth straight crown. “But we cannot discount the fact that La Salle is lurking behind us.”
National University head coach Eric Altamirano, on the other hand, said that the team to watch out for is UST.
Altamirano also expects Ateneo to be a tough matchup despite its lack of depth.
University of the Philippines’ Ricky Dandan considers his rookie-laden team as heavy underdogs while University of the East went from underrated to formidable after a championship run in the preseason.
“I don’t think anybody in this venue will disagree that we are the underdogs… The fighting is back with the Maroons. Relatively, we will be the youngest team if not the youngest team in the league and that makes the community excited,” said Dandan.
“For us to be included as a contender here, we are flattered but we shouldn’t be contented. Everybody can do it. I think the bottom line is in reality, seventh place lang ang UE [last year],” UE coach Boycie Zamar said.
Season 76 unfolds at the Mall of Asia Arena with a pair of key matches with preseason favorite University of the East clashing with Far Eastern University in the opener at 2 p.m. after an elaborate opening ceremony.
The main game features last year’s finalist UST against a beefed up La Salle side at 4 p.m.