Perasol: Advancing to Final 4 the ‘natural progression’ for UP Maroons
MANILA, Philippines – When the 81st season of the UAAP opens in September, it will be the third year the UP men’s national basketball team will be under the tutelage of head coach Bo Perasol. Assuming the Fighting Maroons follow the trend they’ve been on since the now 44-year-old coach took over in 2016, then University of the Philippines should see it’s senior’s basketball club make the Final Four for the first time since 1997.
As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what Perasol expects.
Speaking with Rappler in an exclusive interview on Wednesday, April 4, Perasol was asked directly if making the collegiate league’s semifinals was the “expectation” for UP’s upcoming 2018 campaign. “Oo (yes),” he answered right away.
“Again, that’s the natural progression, to be in the Final Four. We won 5 [games] in my first year, then 6 [games in my second year]. “I think if you have 8 wins, [then] you’ll qualify for the Final Four.
“That’s just really our immediate goal to be right there and make the championship after that.”
The head coach’s aspiration isn’t far-fetched. After his contract with the Ateneo Blue Eagles ended in 2015, Perasol returned to his alma matter and took over coaching responsibilities for the Fighting Maroons. The move indicated a culture shift for UP, which had consistently been a cellar-dweller in UAAP men’s basketball for more than a decade.
Although the team has yet to hit a .500 winning mark in this new era, it’s evident the Maroons are set to even surpass that record and reach greater heights.
In terms of recruitment alone, UP should already be commended for changing the notion that the school cannot get blue-chip standouts.
Last year, former NCAA MVP candidate Bright Akhuetie left University of Perpetual Help to move to University of the Philippines. His arrival gives the Maroons a force in the paint, one that can rival any other foreign student-athlete recruit in college basketball and could potentially catapult his team to the highest echelon of the UAAP.
According to Perasol, his team is also set to field Filipino-American player David Murell from Los Angeles. After serving a year of residency, the former NCAA Division II player out of Cypress College (10.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG) should bolster a suddenly-imposing UP frontline.
That depth up front also includes reigning NCAA juniors MVP Will Gozum - a former UP juniors player - who has also decided to return to his old stomping grounds and whom Perasol views as Rookie of the Year potential.
“Yes, I believe so,” Perasol answered when asked if he thinks Gozum can win the award in Season 81. The bruising big man averaged 13.8 points (on 49% shooting) to go with 9.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 2.6 blocks as he led Mapua to the finals of the NCAA juniors tournament in 2017. But despite all the skill Gozum already possesses, Perasol is making it a point not to have many expectations right away out of his prize recruit.
“Syempre, natuto na ako dyan. I don’t want to put too much pressure on him. Makikita mo naman ‘yan. I think that he is going to be one of the better big men sa graduating class nang 2018, he said.”
(Of course, I already learned from that mistake before. I don’t want to put too much pressure on him. I think everyone will see it. I think that he is going to be one of the better big men in the graduating class of 2018.)
“Hindi ko naman siya i-pwepwersa (I won’t force him) to deliver right away in his first year, but I would want him to deliver. He has 5 years to play for us. Kung ano man ma de-deliver niya (whatever he can provide), I don’t want to put too much pressure on an 18-year-old guy.”
UP also has something only a few teams in the league can claim: MVP candidates for now and in the future. Aside from Akhuetie, Paul Desiderio should also be in the MVP conversation. Once he graduates and moves on to the pros, last year’s ROY, Juan Gomez De Liaño, will be a name to watch out for when it comes to the top individual award.
A former MVP in the juniors division, the younger of the Gomez De Liaño brothers didn’t waste time making his presence felt in the seniors rank in Season 80. Juan averaged 11.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.5 assists a game in his freshman year as a Maroon, finishing as the runaway choice for the league’s best newcomer award and even placed 13th in the MVP race.
Perasol sees the potential for Juan to one day finish first in that list.
“Oh yes, oo,” Perasol confidently answered when asked the question about Gomez De Liaño one day becoming MVP.
“Ang ganda nang improvement ni Juan (Juan’s improvement has been tremendous enough) that I can say there’s so much possibilities for him,” said Perasol, who credited the betterment of Juan’s overall game to his stint with the Gilas pool.
“I think he’s going to be a very, very good player in the future if he doesn’t change his work habit and yung desire niya (his desire) to be very competitive. Natural sa kanya 'yun (it’s natural with him).”
Lost in the news of what Akhuetie, Gozum, and Juan can bring to UP is that the Maroons also have another talented young prospect in the elder Gomez De Liaño brother, Javi, who like Perasol is about to enter his third season wearing University of the Philippines colors.
A versatile big man who can shoot and pass effectively, Perasol says Javi is “going to be a critical part of our campaign.”
Added the head coach, “He’s a third-year [player] now, kaya yung maturity niya medyo mataas na kaysa nung last two years niya (that’s why his maturity is higher compared to his first two seasons).
He is going to be a force to be reckoned with. Isa siya sa mga kinakailangan ko duon sa (He’s one of those needed by the) team to deliver for us to be successful this season.”
All these factors present a window for UP where over the next few years, the team should make more noise than they have in a long time. The next step in that process is to make the Final Four, which by the look of things, should be sooner rather than later. – Rappler.com