Coming off a dismal 0-14 record in Season 84, University of the East is one of the feel-good stories of the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball tournament.
After losing to National University in their first game, the Red Warriors defeated Far Eastern University in their next assignment, 76-66.
That was their first win since Season 82 (83 did not take place due to the pandemic).
But UE did not stop at win no.1. The Red and White next shocked De La Salle University, before beating University of Santo Tomas to move above .500 after five games at 3-2.
Legendary Red Warriors Paul Lee, Roi Sumang, Rey Suerte, and the whole UE community came alive and trooped to the venues to show support for the resurgent program.
But as fate would have it, UE would eventually fold seven times in its next eight outings. And they bowed out of Final Four contention on Wednesday after a 69-66 downer in overtime against Ateneo de Manila University.
Still, it has been a hell of a season for a team who dropped all 14 games in its last campaign.
“I would say yes (we are the surprise team of this season). Kung titingnan mo naman yung lineup, we are a darkhorse talaga. Hindi kami ganon kalakas, wala kaming import. Nut still every game nakakapag-compete kami,” said second year head coach Jack Santiago.
“Siguro, dadating lang doon sa stage na because of lack of materials, minsan talagang down the stretch magsa-suffer yung team,” added the long-time deputy of Franz Pumaren.
One-and-done forwards Luis Villegas and CJ Payawal were role models. Meanwhile, brothers Nikko and Kyle Paranada showed that they can carry the offensive load.
Freshmen Gani Stevens and Abdul Sawat also held the fort in the paint, while Harvey Pagsanjan was his old self.
But other than that, it’s been mix and match for Santiago and co. of who will come in next, giving the aforementioned cagers heavy minutes.
Villegas, Payawal, and Nikko will all leave come next season.
However, Santiago feels confident that the upward rise of the Red Warriors will continue in Season 86 – his third year at the helm.
“I think maganda naman yung improvement ng mga bata. Kasi right now, I would say nakukuha na nila yung system namin, eh. Pero of course, let’s face it, mawawalan kami ng key players like Paranada, Payawal, and Luis,” said Santiago.
After playing its last game next Saturday against the Green Archers, UE will look to fill the big holes left by those three important players.
Nikko’s role might be resolved already, though. Rey Remogat, given 24 minutes against the Blue Eagles, put on a show with 21 big points on a 7-of-14 clip from the field.
“Maganda nga lang dito at least nakita natin yung pupwedeng pamalit kina (Nikko) Paranada for next year. I’m so happy na Remogat nag step up siya.”