The only thing keeping the Soaring Falcons from winning it all this year is themselves. As they play host to Season 76 of the UAAP and supporters continue to flock to their training sessions at St. Vincent Gym, the eyes of the Philippine collegiate world are rested upon them once again. This season is theirs for the taking. The question is: do they still have the heart to take it?
Fans of this squad based in San Marcelino, a team which seasons ago toppled giants, and then later on became one itself, will no longer be able to rest their dreams of championship glory on their Falcons of old. No more point-guard duo of Lester and Jerick, no more money from the downtown with EJ Camson and no more incarnation of guts and determination found in Alex Nuyles. All that is left now is the faith in the Falcon veterans and the new faces that inspire hope.
New Parts and Upgrades
During their daily morning practice, the familiar faces can be seen doing what they always do. Rodney Brondial crashing the boards, Ryan Monteclaro running plays, Roider Cabrera being Roider Cabrera and Jericho Cruz being awesome. In addition to what UAAP fans have grown accustomed to regarding the Soaring Falcons’ players, there is a slight… disturbance in the force – so to say.
Instead of big Mike Agustin jockeying it up with Brondial under the paint during practice, a behemoth of a man stands next to the veteran center each time a shot goes up – pushing, pulling, twisting and turning to get into better position for the rebound. With a wide grin on his face he’d block off Brondial’s path to the ball with his wide shoulders and grab the rebound with authority. Yes, he’s the man everyone has been talking about – Ingrid Sewa, who will be suiting up for the blue and white this season (and no, I’m not talking about Ateneo).
The hype surrounding Sewa ever since he arrived in Adamson is based largely on his physique. He stands six and a half feet tall and is built similarly to Lou Ferrigno playing the Hulk. His hands dwarf the many Adamsonians who greet him with a hand shake, high five or fist bump, and he has even been reported to be able to leg press with all the available weights in the school gym, and then some (try two Falcon centers) with relative ease. It’s no doubt that, with his size, he’ll become a great presence inside for the Falcons, with monster dunking abilities to boot.
The only problem with him, though, is his mellow demeanor while in games due to a lack of skills to go with the monster athleticism. The coaches have started to put in the time to teach him the moves he’ll need to dominate the paint, but it’s still a work-in-progress.
Once the battle of the boards is done, the battle for minutes begins. Ryan may have been with the team since Lester and Jerick were dominating the point guard position in the UAAP, but his role and minutes are now in jeopardy thanks to the latest Falcon recruit. Axel Iñigo, a former San Beda Cub is used to winning. He was part of a San Beda juniors team that won four NCAA championships, and that is precisely why he was brought on-board.
Last season, Monteclaro led the Falcons in assists with 3.6 a game and contributed in the scoring load by hitting 42.3% from beyond the arc. Despite this, he was often criticized for his inability to create shots for himself or his teammates outside the set plays they ran. This is where Iñigo threatens to steal more playing time from Monteclaro. Iñigo has long been praised for his “point guard vision” but another consideration is the winning attitude and championship swagger he brings. In their last game before the start of this season, Iñigo showed off his wares managing to stay in front of arguably the best point guard in the UAAP today, Roi Sumang. He raises eyebrows on both ends of the court and is definitely someone to look forward to seeing play.
But one familiar face definitely inspires hope in a Soaring Falcon fan, Jericho Cruz – their new-found court leader. Last season, Cruz averaged 12.5 points a game while shooting at 41% from the field. What makes him an integral part of the Soaring Falcons is his ability to create for himself and for his teammates. The drop pass Nuyles used to play with Brondial? It took Cruz a few games to get it, but eventually he got the hang of it and turned it into yet another weapon in his arsenal of scoring moves. Cruz’s presence on the floor is reminiscent of Alex Nuyles, if Nuyles were a bruiser. He simply plays with a certain aggression and reckless abandon that scares even the coaching staff at some points.
The Good, the bad, the unknown
There is no doubt that the Soaring Falcons are well coached. Coach Leo Austria has not only brought the Soaring Falcons out of the gutters, but trained them into legitimate title contenders. Possibly the only thing that held them back before was a lack of playoffs experience for both coach and players. But after his stint with the Beermen, Coach Leo is not only playoff-poised, but championship caliber when it comes to coaching.
Despite all the upgrades, improvements and recruits, the Soaring Falcons are still what Coach Leo described them as three seasons ago, “a team that can beat any team, but can also be beaten by any team.” What this means is that while they may have good pieces in their roster, they are sometimes unmotivated. The Falcons have been known to slack off against opponents during “smaller” games but can play the game of their lives given the right kind of push from the opposing side.
With the addition of the long-awaited Sewa and the new hope Iñigo into the line-up, it’s easy to see the Soaring Falcons making it into the Final Four this season. Last year’s lack luster 3-11 finish is expected to turn for the better, possibly ending around the 9-5 margin. Despite losing two key players to their line-up, the Falcons showed how solid the system worked with the pieces they still had left during the Uni-games that followed Season 75. For seven straight games, the Soaring Falcons were untouchable with Jericho Cruz even flexing his muscles to a 30-point game.
UAAP Season 76 Team Previews
|Ateneo Blue Eagles||UST Growling Tigers||NU Bulldogs||De La Salle Green Archers|
|FEU Tamaraws||Adamson Soaring Falcons||UE Red Warriors||UP Fighting Maroons|