New UP coach Bajar sets sights on Final Four

MANILA, Philippines – From a modest goal of salvaging a single win out of the entire UAAP Season 77, the University of the Philippines is now setting its sights on the Final Four this Season 78. 

New coach Rensy Bajar guaranteed the Fighting Maroons will achieve more than just one win this season, which tips off September 5. 

Sa ngayon medyo nakikita naman namin na hindi lang siguro isa yung magiging panalo,” he said Wednesday, July 29. “Ang goal namin yung Final Four talaga. Medyo kaya naman ng mga bata nakikita ko. Yung tiyaga at sipag nila sa practice maganda yun.” 

(Right now we’re seeing we won’t win just one game. Our goal is really to reach the Final Four. The players can do it from what I am seeing. Their persistence and hardwork in practice are looking good.) 

The men’s basketball team had a forgettable 1-13 record last year – which was then only the latest chapter of a years-long struggle with mediocrity – but made good on its one-win goal, which resulted in a bonfire celebration at the Diliman campus. Bajar assured that won’t happen again. 

“So far it’s been okay. We had a pretty good summer tournament,” he said in Filipino. 

The long road to success began on a positive note as the Fighting Maroons became champions of the inaugural FilSports Basketball Association (FBA) last June. UP trumped other regional schools in the grassroots amateur league and it was a welcome development for a team that had grown accustomed to losing. 

Naging magandang experience para sa mga player at the same time medyo nagkakapaan pa yung mga coaches and the players so naging positibo yung naging resulta,” Bajar said, noting Jett Manuel and Batang Gilas member and FBA Finals MVP Paul Desiderio will boost the team, especially in the absence of Season 77's Rookie of Year Kyles Lao (ACL injury).

(It was a good experience for the players, and at the same time coaches and players were still adjusting but the results were positive.)

Practices and tune-up games, according to the new coach, have been productive and promising. The preparation continues as the team flies to Taiwan next week for a tournament. 

Serving as host this season, UP will be tested right away on opening day against University of the East at 2 pm right after the season’s opening ceremonies at 1 pm. 

Bajar, 39 and a former PBA player, was reportedly promoted from assistant to head coach in lieu of American Joe Ward, who was initially announced as head coach last March. 

Ward reportedly could not assume the job because the Basketball Coaches Association of the Philippines enforces a rule on hiring foreign coaches in line with the country’s Labor Code on foreigners working locally in the Philippines. 

A young coach himself and handling a squad learning to stand tall, Bajar embraced the difficult task he’s been given. 

Nandoon yung excitement tsaka nandoon din yung pressure. Ginagawang positive challenge ko na lang for me as a person (The excitement and pressure are there. I’m just turning this into a positive challenge for me as a person),” he said. 

“For the longest time yun yung dream ko talaga maging coach for UP (my dream has been to coach UP). Magandang maingat nga yung team UP. Ito yung challenge for me as a coach (It would be nice to bring the UP team back up. This is my challenge as a coach).” –