Winning six of the seven games in the second round had propelled the UE Red Warriors to a 9-5 record in Season 77 after a so-so first round. In any other season, nine wins would have been more than enough to warrant a Final Four berth. In Diliman, that would have probably translated to nine nights of bonfire celebration. But Season 77 is not one of those typical seasons. There was a clear distinction between the good and the not-so-good teams. There were only five schools (NU, FEU, Ateneo, La Salle, and UE) which had legitimate Final Four claims. UP Fighting Maroons and Adamson Soaring Falcons were struggling at the rockbottom and were miles away from everyone else. UST Growling Tigers were having a lackluster performance, atypical of them who were perennial shoo-ins in the postseason.
For the five teams, nabbing that elusive Final Four ticket is like participating in a trip to Jerusalem. Four of them would be able to grab a seat while one would be booted out. It turned out that UE were the unlucky ones as they were defeated by the the eventual champions NU Bulldogs in a playoff game for the fourth seed that was only decided until a missed three-pointer by Bong Galanza in the closing seconds.
One would hope that the Red Warriors, despite missing out the Final Four festivities, would build around their impressive Season 77 display for the upcoming season. After all, Galanza was thought to be the only Red Warrior that has used up all his playing years.
Strange things had happened since. Apparently, Galanza is not the only one who won’t be suiting up those fighting red and immaculate white (as Mico Halili puts it) jerseys of UE Red Warriors. For Charles Mammie, it will be more than seven years already come next season since his high school graduation which deems him ineligible already to play in UAAP. Moustapha Arafat was released after UE came to know that he was playing in a commercial league in Marikina. Gino Jumao-as was asked to leave the team due to attitude problems allegedly. To top all these depatures off, Roi Sumang changed his mind and opted to forego his final playing year.
Suddenly, a mass exodus of players took place in UE. And take note that the players who left are not just the guys who are sitting pretty most of the time on the bench. These are vital cogs of last season’s deep squad. Suddenly, the nucleus of this team has been wrecked. Suddenly, the UE Red Warriors, from being a title contender last season, are treading the uncharted waters.
It appeared that the Season 77 squad was assembled to be a force to reckon with in UAAP for a season or two. They had a great and savvy coach in Derrick Pumaren who should be more than enough to steer the ship for them. They had a superstar in Shej Roi Sumang, the First of His Name, Protector of the Super Sideburns, and the King #PUSO, who was capable of putting up huge numbers as we have witnessed in Season 76. They had two talented big men in Arafat and Mammie which is an envy of almost all opponents. They had stellar supporting cast who can match up against any UAAP team.
Evidently, the biggest improvement of UE in Season 77 was their defense. As we all know, a Pumaren always puts a premium on it. The Red Warriors, unsurprisingly, were the best defensive team in the league last season, allowing only 78.3 points per 100 possessions. This is a tremendous improvement from their Season 76 defensive rating of 93.6. Most of the time, they employed that familiar full court pressure on defense, which forced the opposition to commit a plethora of mistakes. In fact, the Red Warriors forced their opponents to an astonishing turnover rate of 24.9 percent, highest by any UAAP team since 2011.
Another noticeable modification in their game is their frenetic pace. Not that they were playing slow before, the Red Warriors were, in fact, in the upper echelon in terms of the number of possessions per game for the past seasons. It just seemed that they just stepped on another gas pedal to raise their tempo even higher and play up and down every single possession on both ends of the court. They averaged 83.8 possessions per game, which marks the highest pace by any UAAP team since Season 74.
On offense, they were producing 88.1 points per 100, slightly above the league average of 86.5 last season. Their inside and outside game was perhaps under-appreciated. Mammie, if engaged into the action, was almost unstoppable near the basket as he killed (figuratively, of course) the opposition inside the paint. But if opponents decided to swarm him and pack the paint, UE utilized the three-point territory as they had good floor spacing on their offensive sets. Last season, they took the least three-point attempts per game (16.1), yet they were the most efficient at 33.6 percent. Their penchant for forcing turnovers also gave their offense another punch as they led the league in fastbreak attempts per game (6.3) and fastbreak points (9.3)
An elite defense coupled with an above average offense should be sufficient to say that they are indeed a fantastic team and a championship caliber. Their net rating of 9.8 points per 100 possessions was the highest last season. To put this statistic into context, only three teams had a higher net rating in the last four years: Ateneo of Season 74 (16.3) and Season 75 (11.9), and Adamson of Season 74 (13.1).
Without these key players in the squad come next season, it would be a tall task for UE to put those numbers up again. Their exit would create a void on the team that will be difficult to fill in. But what exactly will the Red Warriors miss from them? Let’s take a look at the five players one by one.
The universe deserves one more season of Roi Sumang in UAAP. But we can’t blame the guy for pursuing his lifelong dream of entering PBA, a year sooner than most of us would have wanted (considering its economic benefits and whatnot).
Without a question, UE would not be the same without Shej Roi. The Red Warriors lost an explosive point guard who is unafraid to attack the basket and to make the big time plays. His Season 77 display was underwhelming if you’ll look simply at his per game averages. The most obvious dip in his numbers is his scoring average which plummeted by 6.8 points. This could be attributed mostly to the reduction of his playing time as he averaged 11.6 minutes less per game compared to the previous season.
However, advanced stats would tell us that he had nonetheless a stellar final season in UAAP. Sumang sported a PER of 22.2, 10th best in the league. Another side of Sumang’s game which will be definitely missed by UE is his playmaking abilities. While he can score inside when he attacks the basket, he can also dish out to his open teammates. Last season, he assisted 33.3 percent of UE’s field goals while he was on the court. Only Ateneo’s Kiefer Ravena and Adamson’s Ryan Monteclaro had higher assist rate than him.
Aside from the scoring and playmaking, Shej Roi (I sincerely love his name) Sumang, in his tenure, provided the Red Warriors the gutsy baller who’s unfazed by any circumstance. How can we not forget his and-one triple over the stretched arms of Bobby Ray Parks in Season 76? If there’s one play that would best summarize Sumang’s impact to UE during his four-year stint, that would be it.
Charles Mammie will go down as one of the most colorful personalities ever to grace the UAAP hardcourt. In his two years with UE, he was a constant source of pain and pleasure for everyone. He was the inside presence that UE badly needed to match up with the likes of Karim Abdul, Arnold Van Opstal, and Alfred Aroga. On offense, he was able to beat his opponents at the post with his quick feet and his ungodly built. He was a beast on the boards as he posted an otherworldly rebounding split of 22/26/24 during his UAAP career. On defense, he would not block that much but his presence in the paint was more than enough to intimidate the opponents to take the ball inside. However, his on court theatrics and aggression had gotten UE in trouble for numerous occasions. Remember, when he got suspended for two games in Season 76? That proved to be costly as the Red Warriors were still on the hunt for a Final Four spot at that moment. When he returned from the suspension, UE was already eliminated from contention.
There was a lot of excitement with the arrival of Moustapha Arafat in the UAAP. But his lone season proved to be meh. His Net Rating was -7, mostly because his offensive rating is awful (65.9).
Arafat turned out to be a one-way player. He was a defensive juggernaut. He rebounded 25.2 percent of the opponents’ misses, most by any player last season. With his length and athleticism, he was able to provide the rim protection (he’s the third best blocker last season) that Mammie could not equal. As much as he provides on defense, the opposite can be said of on the other end. He is limited on offense. He only converted 41 percent of his shots, something you did not expect for a guy of his size.
Season 77 appeared to be the breakout year for Bong Galanza as he posted career-high number in almost all statistics. Galanza, the team captain, was the most consistent performer for the Red Warriors throughout the season. Out of nowhere, he put the team on his shoulders and stepped up to the occasion when the expected stars were not delivering. In the UE system where spacing is emphasized, he acted as the sniper from the outside, shooting a decent clip of 34.3 percent from downtown.
He may not be a star, yet alone a starter on this team but Gino Jumao-as was an important cog in the UE squad. He was a sparkplug from the bench. He can set the tempo in the game in his limited minutes. He was pesky on defense. He sported a defensive rating of 77.8 which tops among the guards in UAAP. As the backup guard in the lineup, he did well in dishing out the dimes with his assist rate of 24.2 percent.
What happens now?
Five guys who each had important roles and had carved their niche already in the UE squad were suddenly no longer available. With Season 78 still months away, the Red Warriors could and should make the necessary adjustments in order to compensate for the losses. But could they really be? Can anyone from the remaining players be the next Galanza or Jumao-as? Can the UE management recruit someone to make a huge impact immediately and be like Sumang or Mammie or Arafat? For now, the answer seems to be obvious. The UE Red Warriors that were stacked just a few months ago became depleted all of a sudden. The UE Red Warriors, then poised to go all out for the title in Season 78, are now probably battling just for relevance in the UAAP.