Even during the pandemic, we’re still seeing movement within the UAAP. From Adamson’s acquisition of Joaquin Jaymalin to FEU’s quiet development of players from the Baby Tamaraws, teams continue to prepare for UAAP Season 83 – whenever that may be. 

Three teams have been extra aggressive in the recruiting space. UP recently made waves with their acquisition of big-time high school prospects, while UST and La Salle have remained steady throughout the year with their quality pick-ups.

Despite their different strategies, the goal remains the same; to knock Ateneo off their throne as UAAP champions. Let’s see how each one of them plans to do just that by zooming into their recruitment. 

UP Fighting Maroons: Continuing to build on Atin ‘To

Season 82 didn’t end the way the UP Fighting Maroons expected it to. Dreams of a championship run were crushed after a shot all the way from Espana found its mark. To call it a disappointing finish would be putting it nicely.

Despite the lingering heartbreak, the uncertainty of their core, and a pandemic sprinkling even more instability, the Fighting Maroons have proceeded to do what Iskos do best; staring at a challenge straight in the eye then proceeding to attack it with utmost might. The Fighting Maroons have doubled down on their expectations by retooling their program with a wide range of talent from Metro Manila.

Aside from usual suspects Ricci Rivero, Kobe Paras, and Bright Akhuetie, the Fighting Maroons are prepared for the present with incoming prospects finishing their residency. Conrad Catapusan and Brix Ramos will fill-in slots for the Fighting Maroons while one-and-done Sammy Dowd should make an immediate impact. 

UP’s future is even more exciting. For the short-term, former CEU FSA Malick Diouf and Joel Cagulangan are A+ talents who the UP community will surely enjoy having. Their long-term outlook is filled with even more potential. Former NU Bullpups Carl Tamayo and Gerry Abadiano lead the pack and right behind them are LSGH standout RC Calimag and big man Ethan Kirkness.

The heartbreak of 82 continues to linger, but it’s not going to kill the spirit of UP. Atin ‘To wasn’t meant to be the be-all, end-all; it was meant to represent a permanent shift. The commitment to recruiting across all levels is evidence of that.

UST Growling Tigers: Embracing the Mayhem

When Aldin Ayo joined the UST Growling Tigers, expectations were modest. The excellence of Ayo was enough to create excitement, but the memories of back-to-back losing seasons during 79 and 80 grounded Thomasians. 

It’s now possible to gauge where the UST program is heading after two years of the Aldin Ayo experience. In La Salle, it never felt like Aldin had total control with the types of players he could recruit. That hasn’t been the case with UST. Mark Nonoy and Rhenz Abando gave us a sneak peek of the kind of program he’s building in UST. With his list of recruits ever since the end of Season 82, he’s been showing us the foundation of what UST basketball will be for years to come.

It started with the acquisition of Joshua Fontanilla, the shifty guard from St. Clare who wowed during the PBA D-League. After grabbing Fontanilla, the UST coaching staff headed to Cebu to hold tryouts. It was a method of recruitment that was both aspirational and pure. To hold an actual tryout, which involves going through logistical and operational problems, was an incredible commitment by the program. But to welcome prospects in this manner felt like being in a Grade School where coaches would hold open tryouts for everyone in school. 

It’s that blend of aspiration and purity which makes UST’s recruitment class so special. When you look at their list of prospects coming from the province, no one comes off as elite. His commitment to welcoming any type of talent, even from the provinces, while promising to develop them with a streamlined program, is what makes him stand out in an otherwise commercialized pack. 

He didn’t just get talent for the Seniors Division; he also added names for the UST Tiger Cubs. By building a plan that’s connected from the ground up, UST is promised a program that’s here for the long run, with direction that is as concrete and pure as they may come. 

DLSU Green Archers: Manong Derrick and Animo unite

The words “recruitment” and “La Salle” have been synonymous with one another for quite some time now.

The De La Salle Green Archers have been notorious for grabbing top-level talent from the Philippines and even abroad. It’s been a hit and miss situation for them. For every Justine Baltazar, there has been a Christian Manaytay who did not pan out. As excellent as Jamie Malonzo was, James Laput wasn’t able to live up to the hype of being a one-and-done prospect.

Hits and misses are natural for any basketball team, but what makes La Salle’s recruitment strategy so frustrating was their lack of direction. It felt like they only grabbed the top prospects just for the sake of having the best recruiting classes every year. Talent doesn’t always equate to success. Building a holistic program with elite individuals and a concrete plan is what differentiates Final Four hopefuls versus championship contenders.

Ever since Derrick Pumaren was tapped to coach the De La Salle Green Archers, we’ve seen a more harmonized recruiting effort from the Green Archers. They still tap the elite recruits we’ve always associated with La Salle – Kevin Quiambao, Evan Nelle, and the Philips brothers are going to be plenty interesting – but they’ve also added capable role players that fit the mold of the Pumaren system. CJ Austria and Emman Galman are under the radar talents who will complement the star power of La Salle. It should serve as a good mix between explosive talent and grit.

Granted, Manong Derrick’s stint as the DLSU coach has just started and there’s no security over how long he’ll be staying for the program. But this has been a good start to this new regime of La Salle. The big names continue to go to the program as we’ve been used to seeing and blended are underrated talents who could surprise with efficient play. It’s balanced, as all things should be.