UAAP: Lebron Lopez cleared to play for UP Fighting Maroons in Season 86
MANILA, Philippines — Francis Lebron Lopez will make his debut for the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons after being cleared to play in the UAAP Season 86 men’s basketball tournament, which tips off on Saturday at Mall of Asia Arena.
UP athletic director Bo Perasol stated that Lopez, who signed a contract with Overtime Elite in 2021, received a unanimous decision from the board to see action as a freshman in the collegiate league.
“I’m just really happy for Francis. I really think that he deserves to play in this country and I think it will be Executive Director Rebo (Saguisag), who will explain how we came up with that but there was a unanimous decision about his playing year,” Perasol told reporters.
UAAP is not allowing its athletes to jump to the pro and receive a special guest license from the Games and Amusement Board. Lopez, who played for Ateneo High School, never saw action in the pro league in the United States but his contract was reportedly voided.
Perasol believes the 20-year-old winger really deserves to compete against the best college teams in the UAAP after he committed to the Fighting Maroons with the recruitment assist of Carl Tamayo, who opted to turn pro in Japan B.League after two seasons.
“It’s all about giving him a chance to play. He’s young, he’s got the talent, so he needs to showcase whatever he has,” he said.
Lopez boosts UP’s loaded roster bannered by reigning MVP Malick Diouf, returning CJ Cansino, JD Cagulangan, Harold Alarcon, and Terrence Fortea, and fellow newcomers Sean Alter, Chico Briones, Seven Gagate, and Luis Pablo.
“We were able to adjust in terms of our personnel and manpower. I saw that we were able to get the chemistry working together,” said Perasol following the exit of Tamayo, James Spencer, and Xavier Lucero.
Perasol, a former UP coach, was pleased with the preparation of Goldwin Monteverde for the reloaded Fighting Maroons in their bid to bounce back from a finals Game 3 loss to Ateneo last season.
“We would always want to vie for the championship but you cannot predict whatever happens. Everyone has the tools to make it to the championship,” said the UP athletic director. “I think among the seasons passed, this is where we really have prepared in terms of the time that coach Gold [Monteverde] was able to have with the team and we’re also able to get the time to develop the rookies that we have as we call them. So in terms of timing and the playing experience together, I think we really maximized our offseason.”
UP opens its Season 86 campaign against Adamson on Sunday, 4 p.m., at MOA Arena.