Zav Lucero savors final moments with UP despite injury, UAAP Finals loss
MANILA, Philippines — University of the Philippines’ graduating star Zavier Lucero may not be able to finish his final UAAP season due to an ACL tear in his left knee but he ended his collegiate career with great memories that can help him in his recovery journey.
The 6-foot-6 swingman, who suffered a non-contact knee injury in Game 2, was ruled out of their do-or-die finals game against Ateneo but he still opted to suit up and join his teammates, who also paid homage to him by warming up in shirts that had “ZAV” printed in front and Lucero and his jersey No. 22 in the back.
Lucero joined the pre-game shootaround and even checked in one last time, shooting UP’s technical free throw with 0.7 tenths of a second remaining before his college stint ended with a 75-68 loss to Ateneo in Game 3 of the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball Finals on Monday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“[We] came up short of our goal but it’ll be one that I remember for the rest of my life,” said Lucero. “I made great relationships with the guys here, no matter if we won the championship or not, that’s what I’m gonna hold most dear to my heart, the relationships I’ve made and obviously, the UP community and all the love I’ve felt out here so, not as successful as we wanted, but definitely still a success.”
The two-and-through UAAP player out of California State University Maritime Academy admitted he wanted to enter the court one last time, which coach Goldwin Monteverde gave him while Ateneo was on the verge of reclaiming its lost glory.
It may not be the result and ending he wanted, but Lucero felt the support of the 21,814 fans at the Big Dome that somehow gave him satisfaction in his final moment in the UAAP.
“I was just happy to be able to step on the court one more time. I didn’t like the way that I thought I was gonna leave things so, the plan was whether we were gonna win or gonna lose, I did wanna check in for one last time and just to hear the support from the crowd and the UP community,” he said. “It warmed my heart for sure. That’s something I’m gonna remember for the rest of my life too. I’m just glad I made it.”
The Season 84 mythical team member, who was part of the historic Fighting Maroons that ended a 36-year title drought last May, wished he had more time with UP.
“It was amazing. I can’t put it into words, I think, coming into this, I had no idea that it would be this type of experience. I wish that it had more recognition around the world because you know, even as a Filipino, I didn’t really know about it,” he said. “If I had known about it, maybe I would’ve come out earlier because the environment is just one that you don’t see many places in the world. I’ll cherish this experience for the rest of my life for sure.”
The Filipino-American winger also praised his teammates for still putting up a gallant stand, averting their slow start in the first quarter even though they failed to complete a comeback and win their second title in one year.
“I think the way our guys fought today speaks volumes to the character of our team. It’s really easy to lay down when you’re down by 20, to start the second half so, big props to the guys that were on the floor and to our whole team for sticking with it and showing that the heart that we’ve shown time and time again. But yeah, it sucks for sure,” Lucero said.
Monteverde, for his part, believes that UP won’t make it to the Finals for back-to-back seasons in 2022 if not for Lucero.
“For me, Zavier has a huge impact on our team every game whether he scores big or not,” the UP coach said. “One of his strong points is how he works hard. His rebounds, keeping the ball alive, giving chance to our team. Impact-wise for those two years, we won’t make it here if not for him.”
Lucero is set to undergo surgery and he vows to come back stronger and prove himself once again wherever he ends up playing next.
“I gotta get well and then, to be honest, I’m not sure. Obviously, things get tabled when you have to go and rehab like I do but proving it is not anything new to me,” Lucero said. “I’ll get well and put me in front of some teams and I’ll prove it again and whoever it is, just give me a chance and I’m sure I’ll do it right.”
Monteverde said the whole team and UP community will stay on Lucero’s side as he works on his recovery.
“We’ll really support him on that not only on his surgery but also morale-wise. We told him it does not stop here get that surgery and whatever his goal towards his career, we’ll be there to support him,” he said.