Current UST Tigers draw comparisons to ’06 squad, but path to glory may take longer
MANILA, Philippines—One team won the championship. The other is currently languishing in the cellar of the UAAP Season 86 men’s basketball tournament.
Could these University of Santo Tomas teams be any more different?
But take it from someone who was part of both teams: The Tigers of 2023 have more similarities to the Tigers from 17 years earlier.
“To be honest, at first it’s like I can see similarities because we didn’t have many bigs except for Jervy (Cruz). We had some bigs but we were undersized and we were unknowns before we won the championship,” said UST assistant coach Japs Cuan after their 86-61 loss to University of the Philippines at Mall of Asia Arena on Wednesday.
“Nobody knew us, everyone took us for granted so I was excited for this season because that’s what I saw here. We were underdogs.”
Cuan was talking about the 2006 UST squad, which at one point dropped to the bottom of the standings before rising to win the UAAP men’s basketball crown that year against a heavily favored Ateneo squad.
Cuan, a backup point guard who had his share of memorable moments during that tile run, sees a little of himself in current Tigers playmaker Ivanne Calum.
“I was hoping Ivanne Calum would play my role before because back then, I was a nobody. I saw that in him too in the offseason.”
“Unfortunately, I think he got burned out because in the offseason, Paul (Manalang) got injured and I guess he ran out [of gas] coming into the season.”
Calum’s burnout showed a little bit on Wednesday as he finished with a pedestrian stat line of four points, an assist, a rebound and a steal.
The 2023 team is well aware of the 2006 squad. In fact, Migs Pangilinan was quick to point out that Cuan was his favorite player from that squad.
Cuan made those crucial free throws in the deciding Game 3 that helped UST seal the upset over an Ateneo squad peppered with college stars like JC Intal and Doug Kramer.
And Pangilinan also knows that there was something from that champion squad that can be found—in traces—in the current team.
“Whoever we’re facing, we really don’t care. We’re just sticking with what we do and hopefully, at the end of the buzzer, we get the win,” said Pangilinan after ending up with 13 points and six rebounds in the loss to UP.
That grit was the same one that carried UST to that improbable title victory 17 years ago.
And that same spirit, the current team believes, will be the seed for the Tigers’ eventual growth.
“It’ll take some time for the growth of our bigs. That’s really what’s missing because it’s hard without an import. But we don’t make excuses. We’ll work with what we have and the undersized aspect, we’re not thinking about that. We just do what we do and we take it as a challenge,” Pangilinan said.
It’s too late for the same miraculous turnaround to propel UST to glory this season.
But Cuan said that despite the shared DNA, this batch of Tigers doesn’t have to follow the same path to the gold that he and his teammates took in the past.
“When you look back at history, you’ll tend to compare. If it happened before and with us, it should happen to them. But I say no, we can turn things around [differently] … we’re looking forward to Season 87.”
“Maybe the recruits that coach Pido got will be able to play so we really need to incorporate them [in the system] as early as the end of the game on Saturday. We’re excited for the coming season but we have to finish this season first.”