MANILA, Philippines – Don’t look now, but the once-belittled University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons now have 3 representatives in the Gilas 2023 pool, and one of them just committed this week.
Enter Will Gozum, the 6-foot-7 reigning NCAA Juniors MVP who was an integral part of the Mapua Red Robins’ Finals war against the College of St. Benilde-La Salle Greenhills. He now reunites with the Gomez de Liano brothers Juan and Javi, this time in the collegiate stage.
It was this reunion possibility, Gozum said, that made him return to the school that once cut him as a high-schooler due to undisclosed reasons over the aggressive recruiting efforts of National University (NU) and the University of Santo Tomas (UST).
“Nung high school pa lang sinasabi na namin na balak talaga namin ay mag-champion talaga pag college – ‘yun talaga ‘yung plinano namin kaya babalik at babalik talaga,” he said in an interview after Gilas practice in the Meralco Gym on Monday, February 5.
(“Back in high school, we were already saying that it’s really our plan to become champions in college. That’s really what we have planned so I’m really bound to return.”)
He also had nothing but praises for the GDL brothers, both of whom are budding stars in a UP team now viewed as a strong Final 4 contender after failing to crack the playoffs for the last 21 years. Thirteen of the 23 Gilas prospects, including Juan GDL, Gozum and team captain Paul Desiderio, were either newly born or not even born yet at that time.
“Sobrang bait niyang dalawang ‘yan,” he said. “Kahit nasa high school pa ako, sinusubaybayan nila ‘yung game ko. Kung pangit, pinapabawi nila ako. Kahit down ako, [ine-encourage] pa rin naman nila ako. Sila rin ‘yung dahilan kung bakit babalik ako sa UP.”
(“Those two are so kind. Even back in high school, there were supervising my game. If I had a bad game, they’d allow me to have a comeback. Even when I’m down, they still kept encouraging me. They’re part of the reason why I’m coming back to UP.”)
Gozum also said that playing with Juan in Gilas helped a lot in making him commit to State U.
Juan GDL, reigning UAAP Seniors Rookie of the Year, then revealed to reporters that NU was “super close” in nabbing the highly-touted Mapuan big man since he lived in the same alley in Espana, Manila with current NU head coach Jamike Jarin. Incidentally, UST is also in Espana, which would’ve made Gozum a constant target for recruitment pitches from both universities.
The younger GDL also said that Gozum’s return means taking care of unfinished business, as the trio of the GDL brothers and Gozum were unable to win a title for UP Integrated School during their time there.
“Our goal is really to give UP a championship,” Juan said, echoing Gozum’s earlier statement. “You know, just take it slowly, try to reach the Final 4 first and then take it one game at a time.” – Rappler.com
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