By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE MARQUEE men’s basketball event of Season 82 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines kicks off today with a triple-header set at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
A deviation of sorts from the typical weekend opening of UAAP basketball, the new season will also see an earlier start of the games for the midweek offering of the league.
Kicking off the season is the match between the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers and the University of the East Red Warriors at 10:30 a.m. followed at 12:30 p.m. by the battle between the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons and Far Eastern University Tamaraws.
Capping off opening day is the “avian war” between the defending champions Ateneo Blue Eagles and the Adamson Soaring Falcons at 4 p.m.
Finished sixth in last year’s race with a 5-9 record, the España-based Tigers are looking to improve on the finish, notwithstanding they will be parading a young team, composed majority of freshmen.
One of last year’s top rookies, CJ Cansino, is back from the ACL injury that cut his season and is the team’s captain. Joining him are holdovers Zach Huang, Renzo Zubido and Enrique Caunan.
“Nine of the 16 players we have are first-year players. They still lack in exposure but hopefully as the season progresses their game will show and help our cause,” said UST coach Aldin Ayo at the season press conference on Sunday.
On the same boat of having young players in its fold is UE, which finished last year with the worst record of 1-13.
But it is not allowing it to hinder the team from aiming high and going for a better finish.
“We have a rookie-laden team this year, but we’ll always fight. We will still compete,” said Red Warriors athletic director Rod Roque, who represented coach Joe Silva at the press conference.
Meanwhile, last year’s runner-up UP looks to build on the significant headway it had in Season 81.
Key additions for the Maroons are Kobe Paras and Ricci Rivero. They will join holdovers Juan and Javi Gomez De Liano, Jun Manzo and Bright Akhuetie.
Souped up its roster is, UP said it is hoping that its preparation pays off and it gets lived up to the expectations.
“I think that the expectations for our team are in place. Every team is going to be prepared and hopefully, we can live up to the expectations thrown at us,” said UP coach Bo Perasol.
First to test the Maroons are the Tamaraws, losing semifinalists from last year.
FEU saw some key departures from Season 81 and it would be relying on new faces to backstop the team’s veterans in this year’s campaign.
“You’ll be seeing a different FEU team. You’re used to see experienced players, but half of our team are rookies so were investing on our youth and hopefully, they can help us,” said FEU coach Olsen Racela, whose team is led by veterans Wendell Comboy, Barkley Ebona, Hubert Cani and Kenneth Tuffin.
With its champion team’s core still intact, Ateneo is considered as a title favorite anew.
But the Blue Eagles are expecting a tough challenge as they go for a third straight UAAP title.
Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin said they have made full use of the offseason to establish consistency in their game in preparation for the tough grind ahead of them.
Thirdy Ravena, Isaac Go, Matt and Mike Nieto as well as big man Angelo Kouame are back to lead the charge of the Blue Eagles.
Adamson, for its part, looks to redeem itself after it was unceremoniously booted out in the Final Four last year after a strong elimination round performance.
Veteran Jerrick Ahanmansi will lead a young team as the Falcons try to go deep in the tournament.
“I’m handling one of the youngest teams I’ve ever handled, but hopefully they adjust to the seniors level right away,” said Adamson coach Franz Pumaren.