UAAP: Francis ‘LeBron’ Lopez commits to UP but eligibility remains unclear
MANILA, Philippines — Francis “LeBron” Lopez has committed to study and play for University of the Philippines when he enters college ahead of the UAAP Season 86 men’s basketball tournament.
UP basketball program director Bo Perasol confirmed the development to Inquirer Sports on Sunday.
Rappler first reported the transfer of the Ateneo Grade 12 student to UP on Saturday during the bonfire celebration of the Blue Eagles, who regained the UAAP crown after beating the Maroons in Season 85 Finals Game 3.
In a video posted by Nowhere to go but UP, Lopez bared that Carl Tamayo recruited him to join the team before the two-time Mythical Team member decided to forgo his remaining playing years and join Ryukyu Golden Kings in the Japan B.League.
“Last month, he texted me on Viber to say, ‘Dito ka na sa UP.’ Then you know, I just decided that I wanna go to UP and here I am. I’m in UP now,” said Lopez in the video, having fun with Tamayo.
“I heard about him going to Japan. Carl, ano na, iniwan mo na ako eh,” he added with a laugh.
Lopez, who celebrated Ateneo’s championship wearing his school colors in Season 85 Finals Game 3 last December, said he chose UP after “a series of heart-to-heart discussions with my family and mentors” for his college education and basketball career.
“My basketball path has been unpredictable the past 2 years as I finish my high school education. Life has thrown curveballs and a few distractions that has made me a stronger and better person,” Lopez wrote in a statement. “UP is a great institution with a very good basketball program and management group. I know deep in my heart that the UP Nowhere to Go But UP Foundation will take care of me as a student and as an athlete.”
He also mentioned his Gilas teammate Tamayo.
“Let me take this opportunity to thank my Gilas Pilipinas teammate Carl Tamayo for the guidance and great stories that made me realize -I want to pursue my college education in UP,” he added.
The 19-year-old Lopez still has to clear his eligibility in the UAAP after he signed a deal with Overtime Elite, a professional basketball league in the United States based in Atlanta, in July 2021.
But he never played a game with the pro league and served the national team for the past two years in Fiba World Cup 2023 Asian qualifier windows, where he averaged 6.2 points and 3.2 rebounds in six games, and Gilas’ underwhelming silver medal finish in the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Perasol said the team will release a statement as soon as possible.
If the 6-foot-5 swingman secures his eligibility, he will be a big boost to UP, which also lost Zavier Lucero and Henry Galinato apart from Tamayo.
The Fighting Maroons ended their 36-year championship drought in Season 84 with JD Cagulangan hitting an epic title-clinching triple at the buzzer but they settled for silver the following season last December with the Blue Eagles exacting sweet revenge.