Unlike the professional leagues, college basketball is a fast-paced, make-or-break transitional life for the country’s best student-athletes. If they’re lucky, they get to play straight out of high school for a maximum of 5 years. However, not many are as fortunate, which is why they have to excel from the get-go.
These players grinding out their final season in the UAAP definitely made the most out of their stay, and made believers out of their fans.
Summa Cum Laude: JAYJAY ALEJANDRO, National University Bulldogs
Season 80 averages: 17.5 points (3rd in league), 6.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists (1st in league), 1.2 steals
Although the 5-8 NU Bulldogs as a team were often cold throughout two rounds, their captain Jayjay Alejandro was anything but. The former Season 77 champion recently used his veteran experience to steer his squad away from certain elimination against the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws by orchestrating an impressive 23-5 4th quarter run after being down by as many as 15 points. As a result, the Bulldogs lived to fight another day with an 87-84 victory at the expense of the 4th-seeded Tamaraws.
Even before that, Alejandro had always been the consistent driving force of the team whether they won or lost, often flirting with triple-doubles as evidenced by his league-high averages.
It’s a shame that we are seeing the last of Alejandro’s play in the UAAP, especially now that he has matured into a complete baller and leader. However, PBA teams for sure have gotten wind of the skill he brings to the table, and Alejandro very well may be a first-round selection if ever he decides to go pro.
Magna Cum Laude: RON DENNISON, Far Eastern University Tamaraws
Season 80 averages: 12.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.3 steals
Ron Dennison was already making headlines before the season even started, as he was involved in a controversial game-ending brawl with the De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Archers in a pre-season game in Davao. However, once the season started, the defensive stalwart turned heads by leading the Tamaraws on the offensive end as well, establishing himself as a reliable two-way player.
Coincidentally, he had his best performance against DLSU in their very first Season 80 game, recording 21 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and a steal on 10/14 (71%) shooting in a close 95-90 loss. He proved it was no fluke as he went on to lead the team in scoring multiple times after that, despite the Tamaraws having established scorers like Arvin Tolentino and Wendell Comboy. In 13 games, he averaged 47% on field goals and 42% on 3-pointers.
The Tamaraws are now just one win away from locking away the last Final 4 spot from the aspiring Bulldogs and University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons. Although the scrappy Cebuano forward already won a championship alongside Mac Belo in Season 78, going for one more shot at glory can’t hurt.
Cum Laude: ROB MANALANG, Adamson University Soaring Falcons
Season 80 averages: 8.7 points, 2.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.1 steals
If there’s a Sixth Man of the Year Award, it would definitely go to Adamson’s Rob Manalang. Along with fellow sophomores Jerrick Ahanmisi and Jerie Pingoy, Manalang is a core piece of the Falcons’ sharp-eyed three-and-D backcourt that has wreaked havoc across the league en route to locking up the 3rd seed with a 9-4 record. Under the tutelage of multi-titled coach Franz Pumaren, the Adamson University basketball program is almost unrecognizable from the laughingstock they were as recently as two years ago.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Manalang was brought in as a rookie the year they turned things around. In his first season, he immediately established himself as a rare asset, being a steady floor general with a shooting touch from downtown. Even with the addition of Pingoy this season bumping him to the bench, he showed no signs of slowing down.
Sadly, Manalang will turn 25 years old next year, making him ineligible to play any further under UAAP rules. But he has made a lasting impact on a once-forgettable team and will look to go all out before his UAAP stint ends. – Rappler.com