Nowhere to go but up for UST, UE

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University of Santo Tomas (UST) and University of the East (UE) are the two worst teams in the last season of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament.

Both schools registered identical 3-11 win-loss records in Season 79 and their respective head coaches are glad that their standings won’t be carried over when Season 80 of the UAAP kicks off this Saturday.

UE and UST, two proud schools with 18 UAAP titles apiece, hope for a fresh start and better performance in the coming season despite not being ranked by most coaches to figure in the Final Four.

Michael Nieto of Ateneo scores against Marvin Lee of UST during Season 79 of the UAAP at the Mall of Asia Arena. PHOTO BY RUSSELL PALMA

Head coach Boy Sablan is full of optimism and the Growling Tigers are pinning their hopes on the 6-foot-9 Cameroonian Steve Akomo—that is if the Board of Trustees will clear him—and three-year veteran guard Marvin Lee for Season 80.

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“Unlike last year, we have longer preparation this season and we played in a lot of pre-season tournaments,” said Sablan, whose team won an invitational tournament in Davao City.

“We have eight new faces and eight veterans. And we are excited,” he added.

But the potency of UST’s roster will depend on the eligibility status of Akomo, whom Sablan described as the only player who can match La Salle’s Ben Mbala in the league.

The eligibility of Akomo, a transferee from University of Visayas, is still under scrutiny as the old league rules states that a transferee must complete a two-year residency to become eligible.

But Senator Pia Cayetano passed a law in 2015, known as the Student-Athlete Protection Act that allows transferees as well as local and foreign student-athletes, to complete just one year of residency to become eligible.

“We’re still appealing it and hopefully the presidents (Board of Trustees) will approve it,” said Sablan, who lost key players Embons Bonleon and Renzo Subido for the coming season.

Bonleon and Subido are reportedly not in good terms with Sablan that’s why they decided to sit out in Season 80 for UST, which last hoisted a crown in 2006 under head coach Pido Jarencio.

Like the Growling Tigers, the Red Warriors of veteran mentor Derrick Pumaren are eyeing a better performance this year although he admitted that it would be tough considering his top scorer last season, Bonbon Batiller, decided to transfer to Arellano University.

“Just like last year, we will be parading a young team this season. We have five rookies in the team,” said Pumaren. “We’re very disappointed with our finish last season and hopefully we will be more competitive this year.”

The last time the Recto-based squad won a UAAP title was in 1985, led by the legendary shooter Allan Caidic.

Pumaren knows it will take time for the Red Warriors to get back on that stage but slowly; he’s trying to bring back the winning culture to the UE squad.

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