UAAP: Former UE stars thrilled to see Red Warriors regain competitiveness
MANILA, Philippines — Former University of the East stars Paul Lee, Roi Sumang, and Rey Suerte are happy to see the current Red Warriors rise from cellar dwellers to a hard-fighting squad in the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball tournament.
Lee, who last brought UE to the Finals in Season 72–which was also the last time the school reached the postseason under the late coach Lawrence Chongson–was at courtside with fellow alumni including RR De Leon as the Red Warriors pushed defending champion University of the Philippines to the limit before yielding an 84-77 loss on Wednesday at Mall of Asia Arena.
“It feels good to be back. I think they’re for real right now. When is the last time they won back-to-back? I’m just happy that our school is competing again. It makes me proud,” said Lee, who plays for Magnolia Hotshots in the PBA, in Filipino.
“I’m happy to finally have the time to watch them. I was supposed to visit them during the pep rally, where the alumni faced the current UE players. But we had practice (at Magnolia) that time,” he added.
Suerte, a one-and-one for UE last Season 82 where he helped the team finish with four wins, was happy with how the Red Warriors responded to his advice after a 0-14 season last April,
“We’re happy to see UE winning and fighting again after last season (0-14),” said Suerte, who used to play with current players Harvey Pagsanjan, Jojo Antiporda, Allan Beltran, and Abdul Sawat, before being drafted into the PBA.
“I used to play with most of them. Every time I go to Gastambide to visit my friends, I always tell them that they really need to bounce back this season after what happened in Season (84).”
And the Red Warriors responded to Suerte’s advice, accomplishing their first back-to-back wins, including a huge upset on La Salle, for the first time since his lone season three years ago.
For former UAAP mythical five member Sumang, UE’s vast improvement is largely due t Jack Santiago’s system and recruitment after landing brothers Kyle and Nikko Paranada, CJ Payawal, and Luis Villegas.
“I think it’s because of the recruitment. I think now the team has seven FilAms. And coach Jack really has a good system,” Sumang told the reporters in Filipino. “All the teams have a good system but it will boil down to how the players will fit. As they say, UE has the pieces and the players move the ball well that’s why they are winning. I’m happy because my school is winning.”
Sumang, who suits it for NorthPort Batang Pier in the PBA, is impressed with Kyle Paranada, whose game reminds him of Lee.
“Galing. Iba yung basketball talaga. Parang si Paul (He’s good. His basketball skills are different. He’s like Paul),” quipped the NorthPort guard.
Lee meanwhile, likes the potential of Payawal, who drained back-to-back clutch three-pointers to trim a 79-69 deficit into a four-point game, 79-75, with 29.8 seconds remaining before they fell short.
“I like the game of Payawal. I watched him play against Adamson. Although they lost, his game is really smooth. He doesn’t force any shots, he picks his spots. It’s nice to watch a player like him who doesn’t need to take a lot of shots. I’m rooting for that guy and the whole UE team,” the Magnolia star said.
UE coach Jack Santiago is grateful for the support of their alumni, serving as a big boost in their bid to prove that they belong in the UAAP.
“It’s heartwarming. Even during our practices, there are alumni helping the team, bringing some food for these young players. When I go to the athletics office, there are alumni asking for tickets already. I’m surprised to see the crowd supporting us. I want to thank them also. It’s a big help for the team to see the support of the community,” said Santiago.
Despite the loss to UP, UE is sharing the fourth spot with La Salle at 3-3. The Red Warriors wrap up their first-round campaign against the Ateneo Blue Eagles on Sunday at Ynares Center Antipolo.
“They have to do well in their remaining games. It’s too early to tell if they will reach the Final Four. They have to keep working hard,” Suerte said.
“Let’s just take it one game at a time. These last two games are a good chance for them to gauge their level. Because in the UAAP every game is important, especially this season there were a lot of upsets that happened,” Lee echoed.