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Can anyone stop the Blue Eagles?

UAAP S74: Ateneo, FEU, Adamson, NU Final Four favorites

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MANILA—The scary thing about this is we know the La Salle Green Archers are going to read this form sheet and run it through a shredder with another gutsy showing that defies expectations.

Of all the teams in Season 74 of the UAAP, no other squad relishes the thought of mocking preseason predictions than the Archers.

But we’re willing to put everything on the line with what we believe will hold true if only for two reasons: Ateneo is that good. And so is Ray Parks.

ATENEO BLUE EAGLES
It isn’t far-fetched to say there’s going to be another Ateneo romp this season.

With 11 players back from last season and two crack rookies beefing up the squad, the Eagles are again heavy picks to roll over the field for the fourth straight year.

Greg Slaughter, the 6-foot-11 Fil-American center, and guard Kiefer Ravena may be newcomers in the league, but the two players are expected to make an immediate impact for the Eagles.

Providing the veteran presence and leadership are Emman Monfort, Kirk Long and  Nico Salva, who delivered an all-around performance in the Eagles’ triumph in the pre-season.

Ateneo coach Norman Black feels he still has the tools to deal with the departure of Eric Salamat and Ryan Buenafe, last year’s finals MVP.

“Most of our veterans are coming back and we brought in good rookies to support them,” Black said. “We hope for another competitive year, but we expect a tough season this year.”

The transition has been smooth for the Eagles, who seem to never run out of heroes.

“We don’t really rely on to one person to win games,” said Black. “It’s really a team effort.”

The entry of Slaughter and Ravena though has gotten Black and the rest of the Ateneo community excited.

“I think Kiefer and Greg have fit into the system very well,” he said. “They both understand that it’s really a team game.  Greg brings in a lot of size and inside presence and of course Kiefer is a very talented player.” Cedelf P. Tupas

FEU TAMARAWS
Octobers haven’t been kind to the Far Eastern University Tamaraws the past few years.

Formidable in the early goings, the Tamaraws seem to crumble when it matters the past three seasons.

But with coach Bert Flores back at the helm and key players maturing and improving, hopes are high that the Tamaraws will finally finish the job.

“The players are hungry to win,” said Flores, who replaced Glenn Capacio as head coach. “It’s not going to be easy. But I expect them to play hard in every game.”

Vital cogs Aldrech Ramos and JR Cawaling are on their final year playing for the Tamaraws and there’s nothing more satisfying than ending a collegiate career with a crown.

Last year’s MVP RR Garcia will be back to lead the squad, forming an experienced and explosive combination with Terrence Romeo, Jens Knuttel and Michael Tolomia—giving FEU the best chance of toppling Ateneo.

Pipo Noundou’s absence because of an Achilles injury will provide more minutes to improving big man Russel Escoto.

The Tamaraws lost to La Salle and University of the East in the Final Four in 2008 and 2009, respectively, before getting swept by Ateneo in the finals.

For Flores and the Tamaraws, second place or a Final Four appearance, just won’t cut it. “This is our best chance to win the championship,” he said. Cedelf P. Tupas

ADAMSON FALCONS

Adamson finds no need to play coy.

With no less than the defending champion picking them as a prime opponent, the Falcons know there’s a solid chance to pull off their best season yet.

“We heard [other teams] think we’re in the top three and we’ll take that,” said Adamson coach Leo Austria. “It’s a morale-booster for the team.”

Still on board for the Falcons are the the quartet of Alex Nuyles, Eric Camson, Lester Alvarez and Jan Colina ,who delivered the telling numbers in last season’s run to the Final Four.

Black, whose  Eagles are gunning for a fourth straight crown, ranked the Falcons as high as No. 1 “in terms of lineup.”

But Austria thinks it’s the combination of skills and composure that could propel them to the top.

“The team has improved a lot,” said Austria. “The players gained more experience. They’ve adapted the system to the fullest and mastered what we need to do. I think everyone has matured.”
Jasmine W. Payo

NU BULLDOGS
How succesful National University’s campaign this season hinges on one phenomenal rookie. But the Bulldogs aim to prove that they’re not just a one-man gang.

“The personality of our team is really more on the defensive side,” said NU coach Eric Altamirano. “When it comes to offensive options, we don’t have that much compared to the other teams.”

The scoring source, of course, is Ray Parks, the son of seven-time PBA Best Import Bobby Parks who boasts an explosive game to back up all the hype.

“I’m confident with our team,” said the 6-foot-3 Parks, a versatile southpaw swingman. “I believe in my teammates and we’re really hoping for the best this season.”

Boosting their confidence is the return of Emmanuel Mbe, the Cameroonian center named in last season’s Mythical Team who played a vital role in the Bulldogs’ fifth-place finish.

Veterans Joseph Terso and Glenn Khobuntin are back, while other key additions are former national youth team players Kyle Neypes and Cedric Labing-isa.

“I think we have a promising young team this year,” said Altamirano. Jasmine W. Payo

DE LA SALLE GREEN ARCHERS
La Salle’s supposed problem in the middle has finally been addressed.

Although coach Dindo Pumaren said in jest that he had a “security agency”—for the sheer number of guards in his team last year—waiting in the wings then were three young, big men.

This season, the Green Archers  unveil a roster with size and muscle with the debut of Arnold Van Opstal, a 6-foot-8 former Junior Archer; 6-6 Filipino-Canadian Norbert Torres, a former national youth team standout; and 6-4 Ponso Gotladera, an ex-San Beda Red Cub.

“Last year, we had a hard time competing against bigger teams,” said Pumaren. “At least now, we can compete.”

The Archers, though, already pulled off a surprise last season for reaching the Final Four despite fielding a lineup mostly of freshmen and sophomores.

And the goal remains the same for the Archers, who are banking on Simon Atkins, Luigi dela Paz, Joseph Marata , Joshua Webb, Almond Vosotros and Yutien Andrada.

Another key addition is LA Revilla, the nifty guard returning after two years of absence due to an illness.

But Pumaren said even with the rookie trio beefing up their cat-quick lineup, the Archers are sticking to the team trademark.

“Even if we added height, our strength is still our quickness,” said Pumaren. Jasmine W. Payo

UST GROWLING TIGERS

University of Santo Tomas hopes to provide the punches the same way its coach pulls off the punchlines.

Pido Jarencio may still be armed with his “3Ps” on his sixth season, but the comical coach thinks this Tigers batch is one team to take seriously.

Karim Abdul, a 6-foot-6 Cameroonian, shores up the Tigers’ frontline along with fellow rookie Kevin Ferrer, last season’s UAAP juniors Most Valuable Player and a former national youth player.

Other ace recruits include Filipino-Canadian guard Jamil Sherriff and 2009 NCAA juniors MVP Louie Vigil.

“We’re more competitive this year,” said Jarencio of his Tigers, who had a dismal seventh-place finish last season. “We also gained more experience during the preseason.”

And as Jarencio reminded, there’s still the team mantra of 3Ps—pride, puso, palaban (pride, heart and fighting spirit)—that keeps the Tigers going.

Although the absence of streaky shooter Clark Bautista due to academics may be a blow, the Tigers expect veterans Jeric Teng, Jeric Fortuna, Chris Camus and Melo Afuang to step up.

“I know the other teams don’t mention us as a top contender, but it’s okay,” said Jarencio, who steered the Tigers to the title on his rookie year in 2006. “But we’ll just be there fighting.” Jasmine W. Payo

UP FIGHTING MAROONS
THE PLAYERS were candid enough to admit it: “Sawa na kami sa talo (We’re tired of losing),” said veteran guard Mike Gamboa.

After a nightmarish season that saw the University of the Philippines drop all 14 assignments, the Maroons certainly look forward to a better run.

“We’re not thinking about [the cliché] ‘nowhere to go but up,’” said new Maroons mentor Ricky Dandan. “What we’re concerned about is how we’ll play. We’re now on a rebuilding stage.”

Alinko Mbah, a 6-foot-9 Nigerian center, headlines the Maroons’ recruitment class that also includes former Ateneo Blue Eaglet Paolo Romero and Anjelo Montecastro, a transferee from St. Benilde.

“We hope these people will make an impact for us this season,” said Dandan, who’s alsoo banking on Mike Silungan, Carlo Gomez, Mike Gamboa, Miggy Maniego and Mark Juruena.

But knowing there’s no shortcut to brushing off the league doormat tag, the Maroons brace themselves for a long and arduous climb.

“With a positive mindset, we can have a better showing this season,” said Dandan.

“Rebuilding comes with a process. And that process involves learning how to win again, knowing what’s needed and doing what it takes to win.” Jasmine W. Payo

UE RED WARRIORS
A NEW basketball chapter may just be what the University of the East has in mind.

Retooling its roster from the coaching staff down to the benchwarmers, the Warriors look ready to start over minus teams stars Paul Lee and Ken Acibar.

“I’m a firm believer that it’s still teamwork that will get those wins,” said new UE mentor Jerry Codiñera.

Lee, undoubtedly one of the best guards in the amateur ranks, and Acibar both opted to forego their final year of eligibility just a season after earning spots in the Mythical Team.

Hoping to keep the Warriors steady this season are veterans Paul Zamar, Lucas Tagarda, JM Noble and Erwin Duran and freshman finds Chris Javier and Von Chavez, both key cogs in San Beda’s NCAA juniors title run last year

“We’re ready and excited,” said Codiñera. “We want our players to be complete so we learn a little of everything—defense, half court, up-tempo, running game—we’re trying to be ready for our opponents.”

But even if they’re far from the title radar, the Warriors aim to keep on improving as the season rolls on.

“We don’t know who’s going to show up every game,” said Codiñera. “But I remind the players that even if you don’t score much, try to be consistent on other aspects of the game like rebounding and defense.” Jasmine W. Payo


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Tags: Adamson Falcons , Ateneo Blue Eagles , Basketball , De La Salle Green Archers , FEU Tamaraws , NU Bulldogs , Sports , UAAP , UAAP Season 74 , UE Red Warriors , UP Fighting Maroons , UST Growling Tigers



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