TEAM RECORD LAST SEASON: 3-11, seventh place, did not qualify for the Final Four

KEY LOSSES: Mark Olayon, Coach Derrick Pumaren

Photo Credit: Marlo Cueto, Spin.ph

 

While fans went gaga over Air Sambokojin during the course of Season 80 (and for good reason), Mark Olayon was doing sneaky good things along the sidelines for the Red Warriors. He was never the most imposing force on the court, but that should never have been mistaken for incompetence. He was always good at doing the little things, from making quick, crisp passes to the cutters of the Red Warriors, while playing A+ defense on the other end of the court. Here’s a little-known fact: Mark Olayon was a nightly triple-double threat last season. He was that good. Those little things that he did matter and UE will sorely miss Olayon’s production.

Then there’s their loss of Coach Derrick Pumaren. Disappointment and all, Coach Derrick clearly meant a lot not just to his players, but also to the UE community. He never had the most talented of teams, but he always tried to do whatever he could. To his credit, he unleashed the talent that is Alvin Pasaol, who many consider now as one of the best players in the UAAP. He inspired with his fiery passion for the game, and the effort he put in trying to win games for the Red Warriors. But it was a break up that had to happen, especially considering the predicament UE was finding itself in. We’ll miss Coach Derrick. Especially his OOTDs.

KEY ADDITIONS: Jojo Antiporda, Jan Sobrevega, Coach Joe Silva

Photo Credit: Richard Esguerra, ABS-CBN Sports

UE has never been known as a school that recruits notable players out of High School, but it looks like that’s going to change with Coach Joe Silva onboard. Longtime best friends Jojo Antporda and Jan Sobrevega make for an intriguing, young guard duo for the UE Red Warriors. Antiporda was as true as a point guard you’d find in the High School circuit for the Adamson Baby Falcons and the CKSC Blue Dragons, as his bread and butter was setting his teammates up for easy buckets. He was never the flashiest player, but he knew how to get the job done. Antiporda can break presses with relative ease, while he can attack the basket to create either for himself or for his teammates. No-frills, but with plenty of substance. Antiporda is an awesome newcomer in addition to Coach Joe Silva’s team.

Jan Sobrevega made his mark with the DLSZ Junior Archers in High School as a born shooter. During his senior year, he tried to transition as more of a playmaker, but as the old saying goes: first love never dies. He still worked best as a scorer, specifically as someone who moved off screens and scored off the catch. Jan certainly has to adjust to handling the rock more as his career in college progresses, but he’ll get there once the time comes. For the meantime, expect Jan to score a lot as a shooter for his rookie year, adding firepower to a UE team that needs it.

Then there’s Coach Joe Silva, the youngest among this year’s batch of coaches. Don’t let that fool you: he’s someone who has experience coaching in big stages. He won two titles with the Ateneo Blue Eaglets (Season 77 and 80), while he was an assistant for champion coaches Jamike Jarin and Tab Baldwin. It’s easy to say then that he knows how to win. If you searched winning culture on Urban Dictionary, Joe Silva would be one of its examples. But UAAP Seniors Basketball is a completely different challenge. Can he bring the culture of winning back to the Red Warriors, or will the pressure prove to be too much for the young coach?

KEY RETURNEE: Alvin Pasaol

He’s the best player of the UE Red Warriors, no questions asked. He established himself as a Top 5 level talent in the league, essentially an automatic 20 points with the variety of ways he can score. He’s the face of the UE Red Warriors. A title that’s a blessing, but it can also be a curse. Everyone has his eyes on him. That’s the thing: EVERYONE has his eyes on him.

With knowledge of his greatness, defenses will surely keep an eye on Pasaol any time they go up against him. The Ateneo Blue Eagles gave us a preview of how this could be done during their second round encounter last season, aggressively attacking his defense, while making sure he never got a sliver of daylight at any instance. It was a blend of team defense, and Pasaol’s lack of quickness rearing its ugly head. He’s a premier talent, but he isn’t without his flaws.

So Coach Joe had a mission over the course of the preseason: Get Pasaol in better shape. He was already doing GREAT things with a bulky body. Just imagine what he could do with a more athletic build? Admittedly, he did lose some weight over the offseason. No one really knows what other tricks he has up his sleeve now. All eyes are on Pasaol this season, from the fans to the media, and of course, the seven other teams in the league. Sooner or later, we’ll find out what Air Sambokojin has in store for us.

KEY STAT FROM SEASON 80: 43.7 Total Rebounding Percentage (TRB%), last in the league

The Red Warriors were the only team that didn’t field a foreign student-athlete (FSA) last season, and it showed with how poorly they rebounded the basketball. They ranked last in terms of TRB%, as well as average rebounds per game. There’s no rosy way to say this: UE was terrible at rebounding the basketball last season. It was their Achilles’ Heel, one of the reasons why they struggled to string wins during Season 80.

Don’t mistake it for a lack of effort, however. The Red Warriors were among the grittiest teams last season, grinding teams out to oblivion with their activity on the defensive end, which ultimately includes their rebounding. It just so happened the team lacked the height and talent to combat other teams. That’s the reality Coach Derrick Pumaren faced, and Coach Joe faces the same predicament for Season 81.

Granted, Coach Joe has had experiences with small lineups. Most notable were his Season 77 Ateneo Blue Eaglets, a small team that paraded 6’3” Shaun Ildefonso as a center versus the 6’7” Justine Baltazar. But the collegiate game is a different monster altogether. With Adama Diakhite still a year away, Coach Joe will have to work with a similar small lineup that Coach Derrick had the previous year.

KEY QUESTION: Can the Red Warriors go back to their roots with this revamp?

Photo Credit: Jerome Ascano, Spin.ph

Sacking Coach Derrick for Coach Joe meant one thing for the Red Warriors: They wanted change. This group NEEDED change. As good as Coach Derrick was, his dynamic simply couldn’t lead to wins (or RINGZZZ), the ultimate form of currency in the game of basketball. So the team went with a winner in Coach Joe Silva to start this revamp of the program.

Time and time again, Coach Joe has mentioned his desire for his group to battle like Warriors. It’s a cliche, but it holds true. The UE program has never been the most colorful in terms of recruitment, but they’ve always fought ‘till the end despite their perceived lack of talent. From James Yap, Paul Lee, Roi Sumang, and now, the Alvin Pasaol era. Not exactly the biggest of names coming out of High School, but during their times in new, they’ve created legacies. A big part of that was their desire to fight along with a strong developmental program. Can Coach Joe bring all of that back? Year 1 of that starts this Season 81, and sooner or later, we’ll arrive at an answer.

X-FACTOR: Philip Manalang

Photo Credit: Josh Albelda, Rappler

While Alvin Pasaol is UE’s best player, Philip Manalang is arguably the most important for this group. The point guard has emerged as one of the most important positions in the UAAP today, and Manalang is no different.

A large part of his importance stems from the multiple roles he has to hold for this group. He won’t just be the one bringing the ball down like how most point guards are perceived. He’s also has to break down the presses he’ll have to face on an almost daily basis, while also neededing to remain composed as he leads his young teammates. It’s a tough task considering the type of competition Manalang has to face over the course of the season. But the Red Warriors need every bit of him. His ability to play the point guard position will spell the difference between a sub-par season, and one that will be filled with promise.

PREDICTION: 3-11, will not qualify for the Final Four

Not yet this year. Coach Joe is a huge get for the UE Red Warriors, but he can only do so much as a coach.

But don’t mistake this as a lost season: there’s likely to be promise shown by this group over the course of Coach Joe’s first year. Look for the little things rather than the results when trying to look at this group. The body language of the team coming out of timeouts, as well as how vocal everybody is in trying to rally the group when facing a big deficit. More than his coaching acumen, Coach Joe will be bringing his winning attitude to the UE Red Warriors. When you lack talent and size, you can start with that. An honest desire to win. To attain that goal, you have to start with the most basic of things. As Jojo Antiporda always posts on his Instagram stories, #ThatSLOWGrind. That grind starts this Season 81, and eventually, the results will start to show themselves.