Four teams hope to make an immediate impact when the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 78 unfolds today at the Araneta Coliseum.
Season host University of the Philippines (UP) battles University of the East (UE) at 2 p.m. followed by the tussle between University of Santo Tomas (UST) and Adamson University at 4 p.m. This year’s edition of the tourney will be ushered in by an opening ceremony at 12 noon.
“We’re thinking big this season. We are aiming for Final Four but we’re thinking one game at a time. We want to start on a positive note,” said new UP mentor Rensy Bajar, who wants to improve UP’s seventh-place finish (1-13) last season.
UP lost two key players in Kyles Lao and Mikee Reyes but Bajar remained positive with holdovers JR Gallarza, Jett Manuel, Diego Dario and Paul Desiderio expecting to lead the charge.
Lao, last year’s Rookie of the Year, will miss the season after suffering an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury during summer.
The Fighting Maroons, however, will be parading three talented rookies – Cheick Kone, Noah Webb and Jose Piero Dominic-Longa.
The 21-year-old Kone, who plays center at 6-foot-10, is an African-French while Webb is a De La Salle-Zobel standout brother of former De La Salle University player Joshua. Dominic-Longa was part of the Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu champion team in the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc. (Cesafi).
UE, on the other hand, is on rebuilding stage as scoring machine Roi Sumang, Cameroonian Charles Mammie, Bong Galanza and Dan Alberto already out in the lineup.
Red Warriors head coach Derrick Pumaren will be relying on three veterans – Chris Javier, Paul Varilla and RR De Leon – and nine rookies.
“Our team this season is an all-Filipino with nine rookies. Malaki ang nawala sa amin pero challenge ito kung paano namin haharapin ang mga kalaban namin,” said Pumaren.
On Sunday, defending champion National University (NU) will begin its title-retention bid against La Salle at 12 noon followed by the tussle between last year’s runner-up Far Eastern University (FEU) and former champion Ateneo de Manila University at 4 p.m. at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
“We’re thankful that we were able to win the title last year [but I told my players]tapos na ‘yun, new season na. We’ll do our best and hopefully make a run,” said NU head coach Eric Altamirano, who steered the Bulldogs to their first title in six decades.
La Salle mentor Juno Sauler remained optimistic of their chances despite having nine rookies including prized recruit Joshua Andrei Caracut of San Beda College-Alabang, owner of three National Collegiate Athletic Association juniors titles.
“We are excited with nine rookies in the lineup. Hopefully, we can perform a lot better this season,” said Sauler as the Green Archers wound up third overall last season.
Meanwhile, the highly anticipated La Salle-Ateneo game is scheduled at 4 p.m. on October 4 at the MOA Arena while the Cheerdance Competition is on October 3 to be held at the same venue. EMIL C. NOGUERA
Games today (Araneta Coliseum)
12 noon – opening ceremony
2 p.m. UP vs UE
4 p.m. UST vs Adamson