MANILA, Philippines – Players and coaches of the UP Fighting Maroons gathered at lunch a little over 12 hours after losing their seat atop the UAAP men’s basketball hierarchy to reflect on the collegiate basketball run they experienced in 2022, and contemplate what comes next in their respective careers.
Although collectively disappointed in blowing a 1-0 lead over their rivals from Katipunan, the Ateneo Blue Eagles, the general atmosphere was upbeat as the players get to recover their bodies following a taxing calendar year in athletics while appreciating the success they achieved.
It was one of the final times this roster, many of whom went through two UAAP Finals trips, would be together.
The Maroons began their bubble training in January for Season 84, where they powered through competition after a grueling schedule to unseat Ateneo and win UP its first men’s title since 1986.
State U then joined multiple preseason tournaments and played tune-up games in Korea in preparation for its title defense. UP was the hottest team in the UAAP during the eliminations, but faltered in capturing another crown due to injuries and superior basketball performance by the peaking Blue Eagles.
Arguably the most emotional moment for UP in Game 3 was when Zavier Lucero entered the game with only 0.7 seconds left to shoot a technical free throw and, as he would explain, “get his flowers” for the final time. It was a scene applauded by members of both blue and maroon communities.
Lucero suffered a non-contact left knee injury in Game 2 while attacking the paint. The exact diagnosis of his injury is unknown yet as the team waits for the swelling on his knee to subside. A potential ACL injury could lead to up to a year in recovery, temporarily pausing his plans to go pro.
Where to, Maroons?
The 23-year-old California native will have his procedure and rehabilitation in the United States. Lucero, who chose a back-to-back bid with UP over signing in Taiwan after Season 84, also had the chance to play for Mighty Sports in 2023.
He’s optimistic to have pro-level opportunities in the Philippines after healing, and remains willing to participate with the national team when able.
Although he didn’t attain a Philippine passport before turning 16 years old, sources told Rappler he could get an exemption in the future like other Filipino-Americans for time played in local leagues.
James Spencer was UP’s go-to defender for opposing wing players in 2022 and will be a veteran voice in the locker room in Season 86. The Fil-Aussie admits he wouldn’t have been sure about returning in 2023 had they won back-to-back titles, but now feels the need to play one more season.
Spencer will first heal a torn plantar fascia issue on his foot which started right before the Final Four in Season 84 and something he’s played through since, affecting the lift he normally gets on his jump shots. The recovery, which would take a few months, will take place in Australia.
Henry Galinato battled a knee injury leading up to Season 85 which required treatment to manage and rest in the upcoming weeks. He had moments of potential during the eliminations and stepped up in Game 3 as Lucero was sidelined.
If he chooses to declare for the PBA Draft, he could be an interesting selection, depending on how he performs in pre-draft workouts.
The big question is what’s to come for Carl Tamayo, who’s considered one of the country’s future superstars. Tamayo has drawn interest from Asian teams who’d like to recruit him to their pro ranks. When asked if he’s decided on his future, Tamayo’s response was “we’ll see.”
Many in UP believe that final decision will come down after Tamayo has conversations about his growth as a basketball player with head coach Goldwin Monteverde, but there’s optimism he would choose to return with the goal of winning another title.
With him in the fold, the Fighting Maroons would have the talent to go head-to-head against any team in Season 86.
Tamayo battled through a sprained ankle in the Final Four, same for sharpshooter Terrence Fortea, whose sophomore campaign also included the challenge of balancing playing his natural shooting guard position with being the point guard as JD Cagulangan healed from a lower body injury.
What the future holds
With former NU Bullpups point guards Janjan Felicilda and Reyland Torres coming in, there will be more lineups with Fortea playing his natural position.
Cagulangan, Harold Alarcon, Gerry Abadiano, Cyril Gonzales, and reigning UAAP MVP Malick Diouf are expected to return. So is Ashon Andrews, their Filipino-American recruit from Maryland whose playing time was limited because of the little integration he had with the team before Season 85.
CJ Cansino’s return is also a major addition, as he claims he’s ready to take on the role of being a leader.
Chicco Briones, the son of former PBA player Lowell Briones, will make his debut in Season 86. The 6-foot-6 standout has shown flashes of being a long-range threat and could be a go-to defensive stopper in the wing once he leans down.
The Fighting Maroons are currently recruiting Filipino-American Sean Alter from Volcano Vista High School the US. He stands at 6-foot-9 and would have five years of eligibility.
Although unidentified, UP is also waiting on the availability of an NCAA Divison-1 caliber prospect who would have two years of eligibility, according to sources.
The Maroons are expected to bring back the same coaches headlined by Monteverde, who’s the only head tactician in the UAAP to not have a losing record against Ateneo’s Tab Baldwin (5-5).
UP now goes back to being the hunters from the hunted, and the team is aware they have to match the level of basketball Ateneo played against them moving forward.
The last time they faced a familiar setback – losing to UST in the Final Four in 2019 – the Maroons bounced back, spearheaded by active recruitment.
On Tuesday, December 20, the Maroons had their final “present” roll call which was their ritual leading up to the Final Four. Team captain Brix Ramos called on each member of the team who responded by saying “present.” Goodbye hugs and greetings proceeded afterwards, followed by a final huddle.
“If victory is a measure of our strength, then let defeat be a measure of our character,” team backer and Cavite Governor Jonvic Remulla left as a parting message for the 2022 team.
What will that character reveal? – Rappler.com