It’s been about a month ever since the UAAP Season ended. Not much have happened since then, but it’s also allowed all of us to pause, reflect, and think about what is to come.

As we usher in the new year, we present to you our final instalment to close out our coverage of Season 81: Our New Year Interviews. In this series, we briefly summarize the season that was for each team, and ask some questions to take note of as we enter the preseason of Season 82.

For our first piece for this series, the UE Red Warriors.

From a purely results-oriented point of view, Season 81 was NOT pretty at all for the UE Red Warriors.

Never mind that Alvin Pasaol made it to the Mythical Five for the second consecutive year, this was a painful season to watch if you were a fan of the Red Warriors. Just one win, 13 painful losses, and ranking dead last in terms of points scored, and allowed per 100 possessions (-18.02 Net Rating), rebounds, and a bevy of defensive stats. Yikes.

Here’s the thing though. Season 81 was never meant to produce immediate results for the Red Warriors. Even during the preseason, Coach Joe Silva was already tempering expectations for his squad, with his focus being on development and integration of an egalitarian system like what he had with the Ateneo Blue Eaglets from Seasons 74-80. Never mind the 13 losses. What mattered was what was happening within the Red Warriors grounds, and it would eventually bear fruit come Season 82.

Here we are, just nine months away from the next season of the UAAP. That’s a lot of time, but just like all the pamasko you got this recent Holidays Season, it’s going to all go away in an instant. This will go by quick. Let’s get to some key questions the Red Warriors will be looking at as we go into the Season 82 preseason:

Just how big of a difference maker will Adama Diakhite be?

The last time UE housed a foreign student athlete was Season 77, with mammoth Charles Mammie and lanky Moustapha Arafat — yup, they had TWO — helping out the cause of the Red Warriors. It’s been a while, so this might take some time to get used to for UE fans. UE, welcome your new foreign student athlete, Adama Diakhite.

If there’s one thing you need to know about Adama, let it be this: he is a MONSTER physically. He has long arms, and over time in UE, he’s added bulk to his frame to turn into muscular force of nature. At the very least, UE has that going for them.

From a skills standpoint, he still has to prove himself. At times, he has a tendency to roam too much around the perimeter instead of trying to establish positioning down low using his huge frame. Some pundits have also noted some lackadaisical effort on both ends of the floor at times, owing a lot to an inconsistent motor.

But that’s the beauty of sitting out a year. You have a chance to learn from your mistakes of the past, and learn new skills to add to your game. Adama immediately adds size to a UE team in dire need of such (last in DRTG, rebounds, and rebounds allowed last Season 81). If he can play with a better motor, and vigor moving forward, then UAAP, you have yourselves quite a problem to deal with.

What’s the next step to Alvin Pasaol’s growth as a player?

Make no mistake about it, Alvin Pasaol is one of the five best players in the UAAP today. If he declared to go to the PBA Draft this year, he would’ve been a first round pick, easy. He’s that good, with a skillset offensively that is PBA-ready, and polish rarely found in college players.

Yet, Alvin opted to play out his last year in the UAAP, declaring in an interview with CNN Sports Desk that he would stay with the UE Red Warriors. It puzzled many, but Pasaol had an explanation nonetheless.

“Kulang pa eh,” explained Pasaol when asked about how he’s dominated the UAAP so far. “Kailangan ko pa, more experience.”

Alvin isn’t entirely wrong. While in terms of scoring, he’s already proven himself as one of the best, arguably ever, the rest of his offensive game needs more growth. As a passer, he hasn’t proven himself to at least be above average, still with a tendency to get frustrated whenever teammates aren’t able to go to the spots he’d want them to go to. That has a direct effect when it comes to his overall creation, something he needs to work on even further as he’s set to make the leap to the PBA next season.

Of course, defense and reducing bulk have always been issues when it’s come to Alvin. He has one more year to fix all of that, hopefully so he can take the next step along with his team.

Expectations are certainly higher, but is the Final Four a realistic goal in a loaded field?

Coach Joe Silva has said time and time again, watch out for Season 82, not 81. Other than Pasaol and Diakhite, UE has a bevy of talent, such as hold overs Philip Manalang, Jojo Antiporda and Jan Sobrevega, as well as possible newcomers Richie Rodger, John Apacible and Brix Ramos. One win won’t cut it for this group. But should the Final Four be considered realistic?

It’s easy to immediately answer yes, but you’d need to take a step back and look at what UE has in front of them as competition. Ateneo and UP are the immediate title contenders, so that’s essentially two slots locked down. Adamson, despite losing a number of players, will stay in the hunt as Coach Franz Pumaren stays with the program. La Salle will always be there, coaching changes and all. UST, CJ Cansino injury and all, has just as much new talent coming in as UE, if not better. NU has the Ildefonso brothers, John Lloyd Clemente, among others. FEU lost a lot, but it would be foolish to count them out. That’s a grand total of SIX TEAMS battling it out for the final two slots in the Final Four.

If Season 81 was a tough Final Four race, Season 82 may be even tougher. UE will be jumping into the fray immediately once the season rolls along, and it will interesting to see how they handle this new-found pressure when it comes to their long-term plans.