Opening week of Season 82 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines proved to be an eventful one, highlighted by competitive matches and impressive individual performances.
It also provided a peek at the players to watch out for, expanded further by new faces who did not waste much time introducing themselves to the UAAP-dom.
Be they rookies, “one and dones” or transferees from other leagues, these newbies are having the UAAP excited over what they can do in Season 82.
The University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers (2-0) are of one of the early tournament leaders in the new season of the UAAP and there is no denying that the solid play of their new additions has been a boon.
Rhenz Abando, Soulemane Chabi Yo and Mark Nonoy are some of the new Tigers making their presence felt for Aldin Ayo’s team.
Abando, a transferee from the Philippine College of Science and Technology in Pangasinan, has been a steady two-way player for UST.
In two games to date, Abando has been averaging 17 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists, enough for him to become the first recipient of the UAAP player of the week honors.
Apart from the numbers, Abando is going about his thing without much fanfare, allowing his game to speak for himself with much effectivity.
Beninese forward Chabi Yo, meanwhile, has been a catalyst for the frontcourt of the Tigers.
He has been a double-double machine with numbers of 18.5 points and 15 rebounds per ball game, allowing UST to have leverage to keep in step with big frontlines of the other teams.
Nonoy only had three points in his UAAP seniors debut but came back strong in his second game, exploding for 16 markers against the University of the Philippines.
He showed tremendous speed and good decision making, prompting comparisons to Philippine Basketball Association star Jayson Castro, something I am sure UST is taking positive cue from for he could well run the show for the team in the coming years.
This space has also been impressed with the University of the East duo of Rey Suerte and Alex Diakhite.
The Red Warriors (0-2) are still winless in two games so far but not for lacking trying, particular from these two.
A former Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc. (CESAFI) most valuable player while playing for the University of the Visayas, Suerte is making things happen from his end for UE, averaging 20 points and nine rebounds a contest.
He has proven so far that he can stand toe to toe with the top players here in Manila with his upside still there.
Diakhite of Senegal has been a tower of power for UE, posting 20.5 points and 18 rebounds. With him in the team, the Red Warriors have a truly imposing presence in the middle, something they have not had since Charles Mammie half a decade ago.
Unfortunately for UE, reports have it that Diakhite could be missing some time because of suspected dengue. As of this writing there has been no official update yet on his status.
Adamson (1-1), too, have two new players who can play a key part in its push to go deeper in the tournament in one-and-done player Val Chauca and new foreign player Lenda Dounga.
Chauca graduated from the University of California in Berkeley and is taking a Master of Business Administration in Adamson’s Graduate School.
He was brought in to shore up the team’s guard rotation with his skills and smarts, something he has been showing in their first two games with a scoring average of 15 points.
Dounga of Congo had it rough in his debut for Adamson but came back stronger in their second game, draining the game-winning triple in overtime to beat National University, 84-83, last weekend in a game where he finished with 26 points and 19 rebounds.
He was reportedly selected over long-time Adamson foreign player Papi Sarr for this year, a telling move considering how proven a player Sarr is with the Falcons.
Then there is forward Jamie Orme-Malonzo of the De La Salle Green Archers.
One of the one-and-dones of the team, Orme-Malonzo played impressively in his team’s debut against rivals Ateneo Blue Eagles, finishing with 18 points and 10 boards.
While they lost in said game, the Portland State alumnus still made a strong claim to be one of the key cogs of the Archers who can get it done especially offensively, both inside and out.
With these new players doing their thing and proving themselves worthy, we, UAAP fans, have another reason to stay glued and follow UAAP Season 82. Exciting times it is.
Michael Angelo S. Murillo has been a columnist since 2003. He is a BusinessWorld reporter covering the Sports beat.