Title favorites Ateneo, UP headline UAAP return after long hiatus
MANILA, Philippines — Defending champion Ateneo begins its quest for a fourth consecutive men’s basketball title against a retooled University of the Philippines side as the UAAP Season 84 finally makes its much-anticipated return after two years on Saturday at Mall of Asia Arena.
The ‘Battle of Katipunan’ that features a chess match between three-time Blue Eagles’ champion coach Tab Baldwin and new Fighting Maroons tactician Goldwin Monteverde is set at 4 p.m. to highlight the league’s historic comeback since the pandemic wiped out the remained of Season 82 last March 2020 and the supposed 83rd edition last year.
Although the opener will still be played under a bubble format, at least in the first round, the league offers a treat for the fans with a pre-taped opening ceremony at 9 a.m.
Far Eastern University finally fields its top rookie RJ Abarrientos when it faces the revamped University of Santo Tomas at 10 a.m. in the first UAAP seniors basketball game since November 20, 2019.
Adamson’s new coach Nash Racela makes his debut for his new team against National University, which will now be coached by Jeff Napa, at 1 p.m., while host La Salle battles University of the East at 7 p.m. to cap the explosive quadruple-header.
Baldwin is glad their long wait to defend their crown is finally over. But he’s fancied with the lack of preseason games as all teams are coming from their respective bubbles heading into their games.
“There’s a lot of unknowns as we start the season. I think it’s a whole new experience for the team and the fans,” said Baldwin. “As we go through the first round, everybody will begin to settle to their own rhythm and we’ll see probably better basketball. Hopefully, it will stay competitive all throughout the competition.”
The former Gilas coach is still optimistic about his holdovers Ange Kouame, SJ Belangel, Raffy Verano, Tyler Tio, and Gian Mamuyac in leading newcomers Chris Koon and Forthsky Padrigao and transferee Dave Ildefonso as they eye the school’s 12th UAAP title.
Monteverde, who is making his move to the seniors from winning multiple high school crowns with Nazareth School and Chiang Kai Shek, said the Bullpups’ super trio of Gilas cadet Carl Tamayo, Gerry Abadiano, and Terrence Fortea made his transition easier in calling the shots for the Maroons, also led by holdover Ricci Rivero.
“The transition is going great. For me, coaching seniors and juniors is the same. What’s important is trying to instill a system where everybody could express themselves while playing. Even the seniors here are very welcoming. It’s really great to work with them and communicate with them during our training,” Monteverde said.
UP will also parade CJ Cansino from the rubble of UST’s collapsed program and Malick Diouf, a 6-foot-11 transferee from Centro Escolar University, in its bid to bounce back from a Final Four meltdown three years ago when it blew a twice-to-beat advantage to the Growling Tigers.