UP Maroons now built for a Final Four runBy Mark Giongco
MANILA, Philippines – Two years ago, Mike Silungan’s arrival put the University of the Philippines and the Final Four in one thought.
Today, buried 26 losses deep in just two seasons, raring to unload the burden of defeat, UP hasn’t been this driven to win.
“We’ve been through a lot,” lamented Silungan. “Been through mediocre seasons but this year we’re hoping it’s going to be different than last year.”
More like losing seasons than mediocre but Silungan refused to say such. Zero-14 followed by 2-12. UP, obviously, has had enough.
“Last season was last season,” the Filipino American swingman Silungan told INQUIRER.net. “The 0-14 season, coach Ricky wasn’t here, the 2-12 season we didn’t have these four newcomers and also Alvin Padilla and Mark Lopez and they’re key returnees this year. This is our last year, our expectations are high but we’re trying to lay low under the radar [so] we’re still going to be an underdog.”
Silungan came in and before he could even play a single game in the UAAP he was already seen as the savior of a struggling team.
The weight of it was too much. But who can blame who? The potential is there and the talent is unquestionable.
“You try not to think about the negatives. You always try to make it into a positive and with this close team that we have, the coaching staff, we’ve been together for almost two years now so I rely on them. I don’t really think about the expectations of myself because we’re a team and I feel like we have a good core unit together. We’re 15 strong this year and hopefully we can finish this season fighting,” explained Silungan, who is in his third and final playing year.
Silungan was heavily criticized for jacking up too many outside shots, but UP’s lack of an inside presence forced him to do so.
“I wouldn’t call it a slump because like you said Mike came in with a lot of fanfare, deservingly or undeservingly of course he is still our number one scorer but you know, teams have found ways on how to defend him, (intensified) by the fact that we did not have much from that position coming in,” said head coach Ricky Dandan, who was part of 1986 UP champion team.
But that was then. Now, UP will be boosted by the return of gritty forward Alvin Padilla and Mark Lopez and four rookies.
And of its rookies, big man Raul Soyud was the one who really stands out.
“Compared to last year we didn’t have much depth almost in all positions, especially in the frontline but with the addition of two rookies – that’s Chris Ball, he is a Fil-American, and Raul Soyud, a transferee from West Negros University – they will definitely shore up our frontline,” said Dandan.
Soyud, an exact opposite of Alinko Mbah at the offensive end, has shown at least during the preseason that he can address UP’s need of an inside operator. The six-foot-four power forward can also occasionally hit from mid-range.
Dandan also pointed out his team’s inexperience and with a busy off-season with stints in FilOil, D-League and even in Fr. Martin’s, they may have already addressed that concern.
“We experimented a lot (in the preseason). I played the players a lot more. Last year when I arrived they really didn’t know much about my system yet but having them known for more that a year now, that gives me more knowledge of how to use them. We look at those leagues as just that. Preseason leagues, tune-up games so we did a lot of experimenting. Of course the objective was to win but we fell short, but we saw what we could do and the areas to improve on,” said Dandan.
“It helps the rookies to experience what the game is like. Those three different leagues, we didn’t come up with a final four finish or the championship but we gained a lot of experience playing together. It was a basketball summer. Everyday was basketball we only had seldom days off,” said Silungan, whom his coach said has put in a lot of work in the off-season to add more dimension to his game.
UP will welcome Padilla and Lopez back but will miss the playmaking skills of flashy guard Mikee Reyes, who re-injured his shoulder in the summer. But with three point guards in Mike Gamboa, Gelo Montecastro and rookie Henry Asilum, the Fighting Maroons have more than enough to fill the void.
“Alvin and Mark will give us more options on the two and three spots, options that we did not have much last season,” said Dandan.
UP’s goals remain modest. Win games first before anything else but with how the team is built now, both Dandan and Silungan can’t help but feel upbeat with the UAAP Season 75 just around the corner.
“Last year we’re rebuilding; this year we have players built for a Final Four run. We’re just trying to improve from last year, win as much as we can. We have a solid team, solid bench and we’re looking forward to a good season,” Silungan added.
“We approach this season, and we can’t help but feel a lot of optimism. It’s safe to say that we will be more competitive this season,” said Dandan. “They’re very excited. They’re actually ready to play if the UAAP is played tomorrow.”
“Of course everything remains to be seen but that’s our jumping off point going into the tournament,” added Dandan. “Iba din yung sasabihin mo sa sarili mo na kaya mo, iba din yung maniniwala ka na kaya mo.”
And as if Dandan has lacked motivational speeches, Silungan said his coach always asks the seniors: How do you want to be remembered when you leave UP?