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MANILA, Philippines — “Not just destined, but designed to win the championship.”
Almost all coaches agreed that powerhouse National University will be the team to beat when the 76th season of the country’s most popular collegiate league fires off on Saturday, June 29, at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
“The number one contender is NU,” said Adamson coach Leo Austria. “They are not just a team destined to win the championship, but they are designed to win it all.”
Ateneo’s Bo Perasol seconded Austria, adding that upstart University of the East will also give the Bulldogs a run for their money in the 8-team tournament that is seen as the most balanced in recent years.
‘We have to prove ourselves’
“We are humbled and grateful for getting the tag of ‘team-to-beat,'” replied NU coach Eric Altamirano. “I hope the tag can translate into wins pero hindi. So we have to prove ourselves first.”
In his third year with the Sampaloc-based squad, Altamirano will be steering a team led by two-time MVP Bobby Ray Parks, who will be teaming up with African big men Alfred Dong Aroga and Emmanuel Mbe.
“If there’s a year we can do it, I think this is the year,” Altamirano added. “We are embracing the (team-to-beat) tag. It will be an interesting season.”
The former RP Youth mentor, however, said that the top contender would be Season 75 runner-up University of Santo Tomas — a team that fell just two games short of stopping the Blue Eagles’ reign last year.
Jeric Teng, Aljon Mariano, Kevin Ferrer and perennial MVP candidate Karim Abdul will be back to lead the Growling Tigers’ assault and coach Pido Jarencio can only promise one thing for the Espana five’s faithful fans.
“Basta ako sigurado akong box office hit ang UST ngayong season,” he candidly said. “UST: Una Sa Takilya.”
Upstart UE goes back to reality
While his team is considered one to watch for in Season 76, Boycie Zamar of UE said that while they are happy being recognized for the strides they’ve made after their 7th-place finish last year, a lot of work is still to be done.
“We are flattered, but we will never be contented,” he said. “We have to go back to reality. And the reality is the UAAP, where we finished just 7th (in 2012).”
The Warriors, who won the 2013 FilOil Flying V Premier Cup title at the expense of the Bulldogs, will lean on spitfire guard Roi Sumang, who will get more help this time from big men Charles Mammie, Adi Santos and Chris Javier.
Meanwhile, UE’s neighbor in the U-Belt area — Far Eastern University — will be operating under the radar this time, with star guards RR Garcia and Terrence Romeo leading the charge.
“Right now, I’m just happy with our development,” quipped new coach Nash Racela. “We are taking the right steps and we are going to the right direction.”
6-peat depends on health
Vying for a 6th straight championship, Perasol said that their campaign will hinge on his team’s ability to stay relatively injury-free throughout the season.
“If we can be 100% healthy this season, I think we can defend the crown,” the former PBA coach said. “But it remains to be seen.”
For Ateneo, though, to even contend for the title, Perasol will be leaning heavily on Kiefer Ravena and hope that Chris Newsome, Juami Tiongson and Von Pessumal deliver, as well.
Adamson will also be parading its own African import in center Ingrid Sewa, but the focal point of the Soaring Falcons’ attack would be talented wingman Jericho Cruz, who will also get support from Rodney Brondial and Roider Cabrera.
University of the Philippines is on a rebuilding phase again, with coach Ricky Dandan revealing that almost half of the team will be made up of rookies.
“We are the underdogs,” Dandan admitted. “But the fighting is back in the Maroons. We will treat every game as something we want and need to win.” – Rappler.com