UAAP Season 84 finally tips off this Saturday, and all collegiate sports fans are extremely excited to see their hardcourt heroes back in action.
After more than two years of subsisting on classic games, YouTube highlights, podcast interviews, and other vicarious content, the actual game is finally afoot for arguably the country’s most competitive basketball league outside of the PBA.
Before the very first play is called, though, let’s try addressing some questions heading into the start of this much-awaited season.
Will Ateneo remain undefeated?
The Blue Eagles are still riding high on their three-peat run, which was capped by an immaculate 16-0 campaign in 2019 (In fact, Ateneo has yet to lose a game since October 10, 2018 and will be riding a 26-game winning streak heading into the season), but with most of their biggest names now plying their trade in the pros and with Dwight Ramos not even seeing a minute of official UAAP play, there seems to be a lot more room for uncertainty in how they’ll look and play this season.
Still, with coach Tab Baldwin at the helm (who’ll very likely be coaching with a chip on his shoulder) and with the most veterans coming back to the fold, the reigning UAAP Men’s Basketball champions should remain installed among most pundits’ title favorites.
Does that mean they’ll record back-to-back unbeaten seasons? I honestly don’t think so. With the adjustment in schedule, the influx of so much talent in a number of other teams, and the abbreviated preparation for the season, the environment is ripe for Ateneo to absorb a loss or two (or even more) this coming Season 84.
Should you jump on the Carl Tamayo hype train?
One of the players who is clearly part of that “influx of talent” is none other than former NU Bullpup and Batang Gilas stalwart Carl Tamayo. The Cebuano native first entered the UAAP via Adamson’s High School Boy’s squad a few years ago before transferring to NU together with coach Goldwyn Monteverde.
Is the Tamayo hype for real? Absolutely.
Much has been written and said about the combination of his size (he’s around 6-foot-8), mobility, and skill-set, though what I’ve really come to love about Carl, especially after being with him in Batang Gilas and coaching against him (mostly in vain) these past few years, is how he adds something new every season.
He didn’t use to have a dangerous three-point shot. He used to favor one side whenever he was backing up an opponent on the low block. He used to be “hidden” on the defensive end of the floor. He used to have so many weaknesses, but after seeing his growth, especially with Gilas, I can honestly say he’s worked on all those things and improved so much. Maybe his only obvious weakness right now is he’s not much of a rim protector despite his size, though he probably won’t have to do that anyway with Malick Diouf in UP’s stable.
Tamayo’s talent is so palpable that as long as he stays healthy (ankle sprains have been his Achilles heel, so to speak), I think he can potentially be a Rookie of the Year and MVP candidate.
Will we see Beast Mode Balti?
Speaking of MVP candidates, I’d love to see Justine Baltazar be in the running this season. Much like Tamayo, Balti’s size-skill combo is a rarity in Philippine hoops, and though he’s been playing center for most of his life ever since being discovered in Pampanga, his transition into a hybrid forward has been quite special.
As such, I expect Balti will put up gaudy numbers this coming season. He should be a double-double threat each game, and frankly speaking, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him average around (or more than) 15-10 with 50-40-80 shooting splits by Season 84’s end.
Can he carry De La Salle University to a title? Unlikely, but he’ll certainly hog his fair share of headlines in the coming weeks because of his stellar play.
Which Racela will see more success?
Far Eastern University and Adamson have never really been seen as rivals, but with siblings Olsen and Nash Racela wearing different colors this season, any Tamaraws versus Soaring Falcons clash could be potentially explosive. These are two of the most level-headed and cerebral coaches in Philippine basketball, of course, so we shouldn’t expect sideline histrionics, but a little sibling rivalry sure makes things much more interesting.
Having said that, Olsen surely has more to work with.
Over the past decade, FEU has built a solid pipeline of talent streaming from their Juniors’ program to the Seniors’ team. Coach Allan Albano of the Baby Tamaraws also serves in the Seniors’ coaching staff, and that helps ensure that their systems, mindsets, and approaches are all closely aligned if not identical. That means that as each Baby Tam emerges from high school, the transition into college ball should not seem as daunting as it usually is.
On the other hand, Coach Nash has his work cut out for him in San Marcelino. He does have some interesting players in his fold — a good number of whom are also products of their Juniors’ program — but the size and talent is objectively a notch or two lower than the top tier squads. Unless Lenda Douanga and Jerom Lastimosa regularly register monster stats, I don’t see coach Nash ending up on a higher rung in the UAAP ladder compared to Coach Olsen.
Can Coach Gold’s success translate to college?
Another coach to keep an eye on is newly minted UP Fighting Maroons bench tactician Goldwyn Monteverde. I’ve followed coach Gold ever since his days coaching in the now-defunct Tiong Lian league, and his teams have always been competitive, if not championship-caliber.
To wit, he engineered Chiang Kai Shek into a powerhouse high school hoops program and transferred all that success into the UAAP High School Boys’ Division with both Adamson and NU. He was even part of the Batang Gilas coaching staff at one point.
In spite of those, coaching at this level will be somewhat of unfamiliar territory for him. He’s never coached a team as big as UP on a stage as big as the UAAP MBT. And that’s not even mentioning the rabid and expectant fanbase that has exponentially mushroomed in Diliman. Can coach Gold steer the Maroons back into the Finals — maybe even end up as Kings of the Hill — this season? I believe so, and we may be seeing the genesis of a potentially dynastic era in UP.
Which former Bullpup will have the biggest bites?
One reason I’m so high on Coach Gold is how he’s developed so many good players in high school and how these players have found success at the next level. Balty is a shining example along with Tamayo and the other marquee UP recruits — Gerry Abadiano, Terrence Fortea, and Harold Alarcon. Later this year, we’ll also see Kevin Quiambao in the mix.
And then we have the Bullpups who stayed in NU like John Lloyd Clemente, Ernest Felicilda, Steve Nash Enriquez, and Reyland Torres. I’ve had nightmares in the past trying to scout these kids only to still end up on the losing end of most (but not all haha) matchups.
This is why I’m curious to see which former Bullpup will really make the biggest splash this season. For me, it has to be a tossup between Balti and Tamayo, though I also cannot discount the potential impact of Abadiano, who’s one of the headiest guards around, and even Clemente, who may end up as NU’s top scorer.
Who will be the new household names?
Aside from the Bullpups, of course, there are so many other players to see, especially the newcomers.
One kid I’m really high on is UST’s Nicael Cabañero, who is from Cebu and ended up in España by way of SHS-Ateneo de Cebu and then San Beda Taytay. He was part of the 2019 Batang Gilas U16 pool and, along with Francis Lopez, was among the most impressive and explosive scorers in that group. I expect him to be a central cog in Coach Jinino Manansala’s system this season.
NU’s Jake Figueroa is also one to watch. The former UAAP Juniors’ Division MVP is sure to play a big role for the Bulldogs, and what makes me so pumped for him is more people will get to see just how efficient he plays. He’s the type of kid who’ll record 10-12 rebounds or score 10-15 points without anyone even really noticing — the epitome of a silent but very effective worker.
FEU’s Cholo Anonuevo should also be on everyone’s must-watch list. The Fil-Irish high-flyer will likely be the stuff of numerous YouTube highlights this season, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s also among the ROY candidates along with fellow Seniors’ Division debutante RJ Abarrientos, who’ll give everyone Terrence Romeo flashbacks. Good times are coming for FEU.
Of course, I gotta write about former Eaglets like Forthsky Padrigao and Josh Lazaro. I’m not so sure if these two former Batang Gilas mainstays are gonna play major minutes for coach Tab, but they certainly have the potential to make an impact. Padrigao’s court vision is uncanny, while Lazaro’s length and athleticism make him an interesting choice at either forward spot.
Best of luck to all of these up-and-comers!
Will the coverage be the same?
The switch from ABSCBN S+A to TV5/Cignal/One Sports was one born out of circumstance, but so far, judging by social media postings and the buzz around opening weekend, it seems like the coverage will still be quite robust. Different, but still robust.
Gone is the courtside reporter label, and it’s now the erstwhile-CSRs will be called correspondents. I like the change. It gives the correspondents a lot more leeway when it comes to the stories they’ll cover. So many interesting possibilities there.
I also like the roster of anchors and analysts. There are a lot of new faces, most of whom are youthful and should appeal to an ever-young fanbase. The analysts are also composed almost exclusively of former UAAP players, and there are more than ever before, which makes sense given the change in in-game scheduling this season. Trust me, it’s not easy doing back-to-back-to-back games in one weekend — it’s hella fun, but it ain’t easy. Now, with so many analysts, it’ll be easier to spread them out across the different schedules, and it gives a plethora of perspectives. My go-to would have to be Bacon Austria, though, a fellow coach of mine for the Blue Eaglets. I remember him telling me a few years ago that he wanted to try being an on-cam analyst, and I’m so excited he’ll finally get his chance.
As for the anchors, I’m super excited for all the young ‘uns, especially the former CSRs, Bea Daez-Fabros, and fellow writer Yoyo Sarmenta (who has anchored games for the ABL before if correctly recall). Having Jude “Kaboom” Turcuato back is AWESOME, too. He was one of my casting idols, and it’s exciting to hear him again in the UAAP. Of course, the legends of the game are there as well — Boom, Mico, Nikko — and I’m looking forward to the kind of storytelling they’ll bring to the coverage!
Who will make the Final Four?
Ateneo, UP, DLSU, FEU — not necessarily in that order… or maybe in that order. Let’s see!
I’m sure there are more questions out there, and we’ll see what the answers are gonna be when the UAAP S84 games finally open!