It’s a pattern that’s clear as day. The last three times the UP Fighting Maroons went winless were in 2007, 2010, and 2013. Do the math, and you can probably figure out what’s in store for the team in Season 79. Yes, the curse of the Philippine election year will once again strike.
While players and team officials swear this season will be the start of a turnaround, something we’ve heard from them at the beginning of almost every season in recent memory, there isn’t any evidence to back up this claim. Yes, the Fighting Maroons arguably have made some significant strides. However what can not be disregarded is the fact that this is a competition. UP cannot claim right away that they will fare better in the standings simply because they got better (although sure, it helps). The other seven schools in the league are all undergoing upgrades as well. It isn’t enough anymore for them to just claim moral victories. They need actual ones that reflect in the standings.
That’s not to burst the hopes of fans of this team right from the get-go, because the future does appear a bit brighter. The ship is set to be steered by a new coach who could be at the helm for more than one season, the average tenure of recent UP coaches. The roster is finally taking shape, after numerous attempts at molding it. Most importantly, this team has a core that will mostly be in place for at least two more seasons.
Season 78 at a Glance
The Fighting Maroons began Season 78 atop the standings, thanks to back-to-back wins. But, like what Alicia Keys said, what goes up must come down. And so UP listened to her as they dropped 11 of their 12 remaining to finish with a 3-11 record, tied for last place with newfound arch-rivals Adamson Falcons. If there’s a silver lining in this just-another-dismal season, it was that the school’s recurring goal of three wins was achieved. And it was reached with six games left to their Season 78 campaign.
|Holdovers||Diego Dario, Jett Manuel, Dave Moralde, Noah Webb, Pio Longa, Jarrell Lim, Henry Asilum, Gelo Vito, Janjan Jaboneta, Paul Desiderio, Jerson Prado, Andrew Harris|
|Newcomers||JJ Espanola, Javi Gomez de Liano|
|Returnees||Kyles Lao, Paolo Romero|
|Departures||Agustini Amar, JR Gallarza, Mark Juruena, Cheick Kone|
1. In Bo we trust?
If there’s one constant in the UP basketball program over recent years, it’s that coaches come and go like waves in the ocean. From Joe Lipa in 2007 to Rensy Bajar in 2015, it feels like there were a thousand guys in-between that coached this team. This year, the task to steer the Fighting Maroons towards basketball relevance was handed to Bo Perasol.
Coach Bo’s arrival is not a magic pill that will solve all of UP’s woes, but his success at both the professional and collegiate level, relative to the previous coaches, could be an essential factor in cultivating a winning culture in the team. Without a doubt, he is the biggest acquisition of the Fighting Maroons this season.
It will be very interesting to see how Bo’s coaching style fits with the squad. From his experience with handling offensive-minded teams like the Air 21 Express and Powerade in PBA, and with the Ateneo Blue Eagles last season, can he find a way to fix the problems of this squad, which has been consistently sitting at or near the bottom of the UAAP in terms of offensive efficiency?
|Season||Offensive Rating (Points per 100 possessions)||League Rank|
As for the defense, it will be interesting whether he’ll use the blueprints of the previous coach. UP managed to put up defensive schemes which led them to a defensive rating of 87.3 points per 100 — not really an impressive number, but it was the team’s best in the last five years.
2. The logjam at the backcourt
Quite reminiscent of Coach Bo’s headache with Ateneo last season, the Fighting Maroons possess an enormous amount of players in the backcourt. Unlike with the Blue Eagles though, where Kiefer Ravena was the clear-cut top option, the Fighting Maroons have a bunch of decent playmakers and gunners, but with each having clear weaknesses in their games.
Diego Dario figures to be the starting point guard in their opening game against Adamson. He’s intelligent and he can attack towards the basket, as we have witnessed in his first two seasons. However, he was quite inefficient last season, with an offensive rating of 79.1, while using a team-high 29.3% of possessions. Henry Asilum and Jarrell Lim appear to be two decent back-ups given their different skill sets, and have the potential to uproot Dario from the starting lineup.
As for the 2-position, it will be a toss-up. Coach Bo can put a tall defensive-minded guy like Dave Moralde to pair with UP’s small point guards, but he shot poorly last season, sporting a true shooting percentage of 37.2%. While Jett Manuel and Paul Desiderio, the two best shot creators in this team, should be in the lineup almost all the time, their effort on defense, or lack thereof, has proven to be liability. Then there’s Pio Longa, the team’s best shooter and the returning Kyles Lao.
The task of allocating playing time for these players will be one of the more daunting tasks for Coach Bo. There’s no clear choice at this moment. We’ll just have to see who he gravitates toward as the seasons progresses.
3. Kyles Lao is back.
After missing the entire Season 78 due to an ACL injury, former Rookie of the Year Kyles Lao returns to the squad. As a 2-guard, he figures to be in competition for playing time with a ton of players at the same position. But what makes Kyles Lao stands out in this crowded backcourt is his fearlessness in attacking the basket, resulting in fouls and trips to the line, where he’s a career 69% free throw shooter. In addition, he’s shown that he can be dangerous in open court situations.
On the flip side though, his defense can be spotty, as he has the tendency to ball-watch. Also, he’s self-aware enough to know that he’s not a great three-pointer shooter. Over two seasons, he’s taken a grand total of 10 and has missed them all, so playing him will affect UP’s floor spacing.
4. The lack of depth in the frontcourt
While there is an excessive amount of backcourt players in this squad, the opposite can be said of the team’s frontline. Andrew Harris will eat up most of the minutes at the 5-spot this season, a fact that saddened me as I was typing this sentence. While he was able to put up decent games last season thanks to his relentless energy, he seemed to be a headless chicken on the court most of the time. Jerson Prado, the backup center, has better offensive skills than Harris, but after suffering a gruesome injury in the middle of last season, he might have not that much playing time.
Just like the 2-spot, the power forward is up for grabs between Gelo Vito and Paolo Romero. Vito seems to be more comfortable playing outside, which gives UP a tremendous amount of space on offense. Romero, on the other hand, is more of an interior player that can help Harris in the battle inside the paint.
5. Can the sophomores step up?
Longa had a stellar rookie season, managing a net rating of +20.7. He was instant offense off the bench, knocking down triples, while coming off curls. If Coach Bo wants, he could be this team’s Von Pessumal but on a shoestring budget.
Jaboneta and Webb, did not earn much playing time last season, but are destined to gain minutes this season. Both are athletic and are decent-sized defenders that could complement the team’s backcourt, which is lacking in defensive prowess.
The three sophomores may not be the stars of this team, but their improvement will be much needed in the years to come.
1-13, 8th place
The curse of the election year will end this year, thanks to a solitary win. To be honest, I don’t know which team they’ll beat. But clearly it won’t be against DLSU, who are projected to win 15 games in the elimination round.