Ateneo, UP still teams to beat in UAAP Season 85–coaches
MANILA, Philippines — All eyes are on defending champion University of the Philippines and runner-up Ateneo as the coaches picked them the consensus teams to beat in the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball tournament, which tips off on Saturday at Mall of Asia Arena.
The UAAP head coaches believe that the finalists of last season’s epic best-of-three championship series are still the heavy favorites this tournament with the Fighting Maroons defending the elusive crown they earned after 36 years and the Blue Eagles trying to redeem themselves after a shattered ‘four-peat’ bid last May.
After winning the elusive title for the first time since 1986 with JD Cagulangan’s history-making three-pointer in Finals Game 3, UP head coach Goldwin Monteverde stressed their title run in the previous season will no longer mean a thing this tournament, as all the teams have improved and beefed up their respective rosters.
“I guess winning a championship last season will no longer mean this season. That’s for sure,” said Monteverde during the press conference on Wednesday at Mall of Asia Arena.
“I think every team, every coach would really prepare and face the challenges for this Season 85. When we play, we just make sure that we’ll be ready and prepared, and just do our best in everything,” he added in Filipino.
The Fighting Maroons, who had a training camp in South Korea and played in preseason leagues in FilOil and UCBL, are banking on holdovers Cagulangan, last season’s top rookie Carl Tamayo, mythical five member Zavier Lucero, Finals MVP Malick Diouf, and James Spencer.
Monteverde also picked their finals rival as the team to beat, while Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin believes that UP still stands in their way as they seek to redeem the glory.
“UP of course,” said Baldwin, whose squad didn’t play in the local pre-season leagues, but ruled the World University Basketball Series in Japan and had a camp in Israel, where they played tune-up games, and also played friendly games against Bay Area Dragons and Korean Basketball League’s LG Sakers at home.
The Blue Eagles are starting their life without SJ Belangel, Gian Mamuyac, Raffy Verano, and Tyler Tio, leaving bigger responsibilities for holdovers, bannered by reigning MVP Ange Kouame, Dave Ildefonso, BJ Andrade, and Forthsky Padrigao as well as newcomers Kai Ballungay and Paul Garcia.
“Both of them (Japan and Israel) were useful for the team. I’m sure that we took steps forward. But missing out on the FilOil and the other competitions that involve the UAAP teams is not something that’s going to help us. So we just have to see the effect of all of that when we start playing against these guys over there in a few games,” the American-Kiwi coach said.
NOT JUST ATENEO AND UP
However, La Salle guard Evan Nelle made a bold statement in the press conference, saying the Green Archers should be considered as UAAP favorites after winning the PBA D-League Aspirants’ Cup and bronze in the FilOil EcoOil preseason cup.
“I really think we are the favorites. Because the way we bonded during our preseason games we really showed what we can do as a team. The bonding was really different from the bubble season. So yeah. We’re number one,” said Nelle, who is seeking to avenge their fourth quarter meltdown in their do-or-die Final Four game against UP.
Adamson head coach Nash Racela, meanwhile, included FilOil EcoOil preseason champion National University as a squad to watch out for, while University of Santo Tomas assistant coach Rodney Santos, speaking for head coach Bal David, dauntlessly said they are a team to beat, too.
The UAAP is bringing back its full calendar for the first time in this pandemic era. The Season 85 opening ceremony will be pre-recorded and will be aired on Cignal TV at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday before Adamson and UST kick off the men’s basketball season at 2 p.m. Defending champion UP opens its title retention quest against La Salle at 4 p.m.
Runner-up Ateneo starts its redemption season on Sunday against Final Four rival Far Eastern University on Sunday at 4 p.m., right after the 2 p.m. showdown between NU and University of the East.