The University of the East Red Warriors are preparing for the upcoming UAAP Season 81 Men’s Basketball Tournament with a new look.
And they’ll likely be without Alvin Pasaol.
After declaring his intention to play out his final year last December, the All-UAAP team member might have had a change of heart, as he has signed with MPBL club team Bataan Risers.
But UE’s management, led by Lawrence Chongson, has been ready for this all along.
“I tried everything to make Pasaol stay but wala eh,” said the school’s Head of Basketball Operations.
“Obviously since Day One, nung nagpalit ng head coach ang UE, eh wala na rin yung puso nung bata diyan. Malaking misteryo din nga na hindi siya nagpa-draft sa PBA last season di ba?
“Kung ano man ang mga plano niya, I wish him well just the same,” he continued.
Pasaol is one of 12 Red Warriors who will not return to the team for the upcoming season.
Gone are the likes of Jason Varilla, Wilson Bartolome, JC Cullar, Mark Maloles, Rey Acuno, Jason Strait, Ric Gallardo, Brian Lacap, Jan Sobrevega, Shannon Gagate, and Leo Guion.
The only holdovers in UE’s pool are Philip Manalang, Chris Conner, Jojo Antiporda, and Allan Beltran.
And it’s because last season, the Red Warriors only had one win under their belt.
“Revamp. They already had a chance to deliver,” said Chongson.
“But we had players waiting in our Team B para mabago yung direction.”
Despite no longer being part of the school’s varsity, Chongson – who steered the Red Warriors to the Finals back in Season 72 – made sure that the student-athletes can still continue their studies in UE.
“We allowed them to finish the school year and retained their benefits.”
Waiting in the wings for UE is a killer group groomed by head coach Joe Silva and assistant coach Ton Brodett.
UE’s pool includes the likes of 6-foot-9 Adama Diakhite, two-time CESAFI MVP Rey Suerte, former Ateneo Blue Eagle John Apacible, Fil-Kiwi Richie Rodger, ex-JRU big man Abdul Sawat, former DLSU Green Archer Neil Tolentino, Ateneo High School product Brix Ramos, Hope Christian standout Harvey Pagsanjan, ex-UST Growling Tiger Onzo Lorenzana, and returnees Nick Abanto, Jem Cruz, and Omar Larupay.
Only a few can see this squad before the UAAP opens its curtains, however, as Chongson wants this batch of Red Warriors to have the element of surprise for the season.
Moreover, he wants to keep the morale of these kids up, as losses in tournaments like the PBA D-League and the Filoil Flying V Preseason Cup might affect their confidence.
“Critical yung five months before the season. I want to build them first – yung angas, character, and strength. Bakit kami sasali dun ‘pag half-baked pa kami?” opined Chongson.
“Aside from Manalang, Conner, and Apacible, lahat ng players namin wala pang UAAP experience. What we do in the next five months will be important to make them ready for the big stage.”
What Chongson and the team’s management – backed by Tanduay President Bong Tan – have in store for the Red Warriors are camps and pocket tournaments abroad for the next five months.
“We are planning to go to the States soon, depending on the visa approval of the players. We are also planning to join a tournament in Japan.
“Ito yung diskarte namin to be full of surprises. Subok lang. Kasi the previous years, they can’t go anywhere but now that I’m back, plano natin mag-train abroad. It’s part of giving confidence to the players and building a culture,” he continued.
And Chongson is hoping that this will be the perfect formula to end the Red Warriors’ nine-year Final Four drought and 34-year championship slump.
“Right now, we are trying to solve the mystery of why we have not won the championship in thirty-four years in an eight-team league. Isang dekada na kaming hindi nagfa-Final Four,” Chongson wonders.
“Maybe, subukan naman natin na five-man game instead of the one-man team approach that UE had been sadly relying on with Pasaol the past few seasons. Try naman natin na umiikot yung bola,” he continued.
“Tuloy, si Pasaol lang ang sumikat at yung school parati na lang luhaan.”