There’s nowhere to go but UP with Carl Tamayo

By Pio Garcia

Super rookies have come and gone for the UP Fighting Maroons. They’ve had their fair share of diamond in the roughs that failed to pan out, erstwhile five-star recruits that failed to live up to expectations, and those that faded into relative obscurity after one round of elimination games.

With their looming third Final Four appearance, UP is once again parading a super rookie that has seemingly carried their fortune with him at the helm that can be easily missed by casual basketball fans. Unfortunately, it’s not Zav Lucero for those who are screaming at the top of their lungs “Hey I told you so this guy was good!” Nor is it Gerry Abadiano, who was dubbed by some as their point guard of the future. Or Malick Diouf who has severely underwhelmed in what was being touted as a legit challenge to Ateneo’s Angelo Kouame.

Believe it or not, UP’s Final Four fortunes hinge on 6’8” super rookie Carl Tamayo’s shoulders, who hasn’t generated as much buzz as he should be no thanks in particular to his boring Tim Duncan-like game.

As much as Lucero has provided the fireworks with an amazing three-game stretch where we saw him rack up 20-10 double-doubles left and right, his consistency remains to be a question mark. While basketball remains to be a sport that is mostly carried by highlight plays at a glance, at the end of the day, it all boils down to being effective with the rock, putting it in the basket, and doing it more times than your opponent.

That’s where Tamayo comes in.

While ranking second on the team in points (13.4), and rebounds (7.8), he also finishes in the top five of the team in terms of assists (1.5), steals (0.83), and blocks (0.67), and threes attempted (4.42). Tamayo is also one of only five players on this Fighting Maroons team that is shooting at 40% or better while hitting 33% from beyond the arc. They’re not exactly the numbers you would expect of a rookie in a star-laden lineup, much less a stretch big who is in his first foray into Seniors basketball. Much less, the level of consistency in which he has produced.

He’s been solid as a rock, and while many believe that CJ Cansino was the gem of their pandemic haul, I beg to disagree and strongly am riding the wagon that Carl Tamayo will dictate where UP will figure in the Final Four, or even beyond it, in the years to come.

Yes. While he may be good now, there is also the future to consider, where he pretty much will be a constant figure in any UP team Goldwyn Monteverde will field. The last UP big fresh off high school to have that much weight? Oh, some dude named Benjie Paras.

At face value, you may think, how is this guy the most important person on the team when Zavier Lucero outplays him in all the “valuable” stats and has quite the highlight reels dreams been made of, which includes a sick poster of De La Salle University’s premier big guy Justine Baltazar. One may even consider Ricci Rivero even, despite a shaky start, to be the anchor of the UP Fighting Maroons.

But come to think of it, if we watch closely, and observe harder, notice how in every lineup that UP put out on the floor with Carl Tamayo, the first touch of the basketball as it crosses the halfcourt has to be with Tamayo from the high post, on either elbow. Goldwyn is practically using basic basketball right there, and an underappreciated one at that with all these flashy wing players flying about.

Make basketball simple. 

When you have a talented big man, whose polished offensive skills are unparalleled by only a few, namely Justine Baltazar and Ange Kouame, put the ball in his hands.

Without Tamayo’s gravity, there’s no way Zavier Lucero can clean up messes when the paint is heavily clogged. There will be no open looks for Ricci to attempt six threes a game, or give Cansino driving lanes to work with. Malick Diouf? I’m more comfortable putting it in Tamayo’s hands than a seven-foot iteration of Bo Perasol’s Chibueze Ikeh.

Without his consistency and efficiency of being able to put the basket inside the hoop as well as grab rebounds and carve realty inside, and as one of UP’s valuable floor spacers, the Fighting Maroons would’ve been hard-pressed to have a foothold on the second spot in the standings given how the rest of the field this side of UE has gotten bigger. In the times when Tamayo is not present, UP’s offense looked very shaky and collapsible. At the end of the day, UP’s fortunes will heavily hinge on Carl Tamayo’s shoulders’ ability to carry an offense through a three-minute stretch especially when they are in a rut, as it has happened quite a number of times.

Is it putting too much pressure if I say Tamayo has what it takes to challenge Benjie Paras’ legacy as a Fighting Maroon? Perhaps. 

For many years, UP has been looking for a savior on the hardcourt. Marvin Cruz, Mike Silungan, Mike Gamboa, Migs De Asis, Soc Rivera, the list goes on. They’ve put up with years that supposed stars that failed to pan out or faded into obscurity after one round of elimination games.

However, I believe we haven’t seen the best Tamayo has to offer and we are barely scratching the surface of his potential.

He’s a problem, and people better recognize that now rather than later.

He’s the star and not the accessory.

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