MANILA, Philippines – The UP Fighting Maroons will not have the playing services of standout Zavier Lucero due to a knee injury when they battle the Ateneo Blue Eagles in Game 3 of the UAAP men’s basketball finals on Monday, December 19.
But that doesn’t mean they won’t have him present for the important occasion.
“I’d give everything to be out there, fighting with my guys and contributing as much as I can, just trying to win a championship,” Lucero said three days after suffering the injury.
“But I just don’t think it’s in the cards for me. Maybe if I had a little more time to decrease the swelling and all that, maybe I could try to give it a go like CJ (Cansino) did last year, but that’s not the case for me.”
Lucero admits that part is ”tough.”
“[Those] are my brothers who are going to be out there – [it’s] such a pivotal game and I just wish my body could have made it 40 more minutes,” he said.
Despite being sidelined in the final game of his last UAAP season, Lucero will still be with teammates on the bench for their Season 85 finale, cheering them on and providing tactical advise when needed.
“I’ll be there. Nothing’s stopping me from going,” Lucero added during a podcast interview with this writer. “I’m still part of this team and I have full intention to give them whatever I can give them to go out there and win this game because we deserve it, my guys deserve it, the UP community deserves it, and yeah, I’m going to be there.”
Amid reports stating that Lucero suffered a torn ACL or meniscus injury in his left knee during Game 2, the 23-year-old clarified that there is no accurate diagnosis yet.
“I felt my knee shift, for sure, but how could you hear anything in a stadium like that?” Lucero said about reports that he heard a “crack” during the game.
“People are jumping to conclusions as to what the diagnosis is,” he said, not with malice but with the purpose of setting the record straight.
“There is no conclusion right now. So, I’m trying to get a hold on what the injury is and I’m getting, obviously, the different reports, but I have to wait for my knee’s swelling to go down and also to get a clear picture of what’s going on with my injury.”
The former Cal Maritime standout added: “That’s why I came on here, just to kind of say that if I don’t know, no one knows. Until I get a grasp of this thing, it’s not conclusive. It could be anything.”
Lucero also clarified that his injury was not caused by contact from an Ateneo player, nor did he feel warning signs during the game ahead of the fateful moment.
“I think it was more of a freak accident for me,” he said. “Obviously with any injury there’s going to be a load factor in how much I’ve been doing this past year, so definitely, you can point to that, but most of it I think is just a bad plant and bad time.”
Members of the Blue Eagles offered kind words and well-wishes to Lucero, both in the post-game press conference and on social media afterwards.
“I saw some stuff that maybe there was a push by Chris (Koon) or something like that. There’s no way,” Lucero said. “I know those guys, no way would they want me to injure myself, nor would I want them to injure themselves.”
Lucero finished his second campaign with UP averaging 11.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.4 steals, and nearly a block a game on 42% shooting, 33% from deep, and 79% from the foul line.
He would have been a strong choice to win Finals MVP given his impressive outing in the title series opener, which the Fighting Maroons won thanks to his all-around production and late-game defensive heroics.
In terms of what lies ahead, Lucero is aware there will be a challenging recovery process which he will likely complete back home in the United States. That sidelines what could have been imminent post-collegiate opportunities, such as playing for Mighty Sports, declaring for the PBA Draft, or even potentially pursuing a chance to play abroad.
“I’m not sure yet, because everything is up in the air now. Yeah, there were some opportunities in the table for me, but this is my journey. You’ve got to run your own race, not focus too much on that, because it’s over with. I’ve got to focus on what I’ve got to do to get back,” he said.
“As far as playing in the Philippines or Asia, I’d love to.”
Lucero, however, knows as early as now that if an opportunity to play for the Philippine men’s basketball team arises, he would take it.
“Oh my gosh, yes, of course. Any day! I’ll play on one leg right now. That’s the biggest honor, to be able to put that on your chest and play for something bigger than yourself,” he said.
“That would be awesome. That’s one of my goals for sure. If I can make that happen, that would be awesome.”
For now, Lucero is finding solace in helping his teammates prepare for the knockout match on Monday, December 19, and spending time with his family, who flew from California to visit him.
When asked what the key will be to help the Fighting Maroons prevail in Game 3, Lucero stressed that the team’s desire and ball movement must be on-point.
“Just like last [season], it’s who wants it [more],” he said.
“As far as tactics go, in Game 2, we didn’t execute enough, we didn’t move the ball enough. I think anyone watching that game can see the difference between Game 1 and Game 2. It just wasn’t as cohesive on either end of the floor. That’s what I’m all about – I know if we play the right way, no team in the league can beat us consistently.”
Lucero also added: “No matter what the situation – if we’re down by 10, down by 20, it doesn’t matter, if we’re up by 20 – go out there and make the right plays.”
“It’s never your time to shine, it’s always the time to make the right play,” he said. “If we do that, I don’t see us losing. I told them they don’t need me to win one game, we got enough talent for sure. Hopefully we can pull it out, but I’m confident that we will.” – Rappler.com