Expect all-out war when the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 76 basketball tournament unfurls today at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Four teams will be seeing action in the opening day—the tussle between early favorite University of the East (UE) and perennial title contender Far Eastern University (FEU) at 2 p.m. followed by the equally interesting match up of last year’s runner-up University of Santo Tomas (UST) and De La Salle University at 4 p.m.
On Sunday, four more teams take center stage as defending champion Ateneo de Manila University take on another front runner, National University, at 4 p.m. right after the curtain-raiser game of season host Adamson University and University of the Philippines (UP) at 2 p.m.
The Blue Eagles remain as sentimental favorite for having won the last five championship titles. Despite losing some key players in Greg Slaughter, Nico Salva, Justin Chua, Tonino Gonzaga and Oping Sumalinog, Ateneo is still intact led by scoring machine Kiefer Ravena, Juami Tiongson, Ryan Buenafe and Von Pessumal.
But Ateneo head coach Bo Perasol said their quest for a rare six-peat won’t be a walk in the park as some teams have beefed up their line-ups including the UE Red Warriors and NU Bulldogs.
“I hope we will be able to stand our ground against these teams. We’ll be going out fighting. These players are determined to go for it [six-peat],” said Perasol, who replaced former mentor Norman Black late last year. Black is now handling Talk ‘N Text in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).
The Bulldogs, who ruled the Philippine University Games, will be headed by two-time Most Valuable Player Bobby Ray Parks along with African players 6-foot-8 Alfred Aroga and 6-foot-7 Emmanuel Mbe.
“With the graduation of players of Ateneo, the playing field is evened up. We are humbled of the tag being the team to beat but we need to prove that inside the court. We need to prove ourselves,” said NU coach Eric Altamirano.
Powered by Sierra Leone native Charles Mammie and prolific point guard Shej Roi Sumang, UE showed a championship-caliber game when they dethroned NU in the preseason tournament Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup recently.
Other holdovers for the Red Warriors are JM Noble, Chris Javier, Lord Casajeros, JR Sumido, and Ralf Olivarez.
Reigning Philippine Collegiate Champions League UST will get a huge lift from veteran players Cameroonian Karim Abdul, Jeric Teng, Aljon Mariano, Clark Bautista, Kevin Ferrer and Ed Daquioag as it aim a return trip to the finals.
The Growling Tigers absorbed a heartbreaking 0-2 (78-83, 62-65) loss against the Blue Eagles in the last season’s best-of-three championship series.
La Salle, handled by new head coach Juno Sauler and former PBA star Allan Caidic as assistant, is looking to surpass its fourth-place finish last season. Key players are Rookie of the Year Jeron Teng, Norbert Torres, Almond Vosotros, LA Revilla and Arnold Van Opstal.
The backcourt duo of Ryan Roose Garcia and Terrence Romeo is still the main weapon of the FEU Tamaraws along with seven-footer Christian Sentcheu, Anthony Hargrove and former national youth team member Mike Tolomia. The Tamaraws failed to make it to the Final Four after bowing to the Green Archers in their playoff for the last semifinals berth.
The UP Fighting Maroons, on the other hand, got seven rookie players in the lineup. They are Andre Paras, son of former PBA Rookie of the Year and MVP Benjie, Kyle Suarez, Agustin Amar, Andrew Harris, Kyle Lao, Jason Ligad and Andres Paul Desiderio. But these rookies are raring to pull a surprise against their veteran counterparts. UP wound up eighth last year.
“This will be an exciting season. Any team can beat any team. A lot of teams will emerge a contender,” said Adamson coach Leo Austria, who will be relying on John Rodney Brondial, Jericho Cruz, Ryan Monteclaro, Lloyd Abrigo and Roider Cabrera.
The opening ceremonies will begin at 12:30. This year’s theme is “Greatness Never Ends” underscoring the league’s commitment of producing globally competitive athletes.