by: Eriko Dela Cruz
The elimination round of UAAP Season 84 ended in such wild fashion that no one was sure who the finalists would be, and were treated to a cardiac finals series. This season, it’s shaping up to be more interesting than the last. Here are the three teams that made all kinds of noise in the postseason:
DE LA SALLE GREEN ARCHERS
How do you move on from Justine Baltazar? Arguably the best local big man in collegiate sports, it is pretty hard to replace him after he took his talents to southern Japan.
But having one of the best versatile rookie big men is a very good start.
Kevin Quiambao was one of NSNU’s big three with Carl Tamayo and Gerry Abadiano. Now that his running mates won a title with the UP Fighting Maroons, he is looking to get his own hardware with the Green Archers.
Now on his second year, Michael Phillips is no longer an unknown. He has had some mind-blowing highlights last season, and now we look at how he expands his game. He was still very rough around the edges on his rookie year, but the experience he got last season and the preparations for this season could make him more lethal.
Of course, the heart and soul of this team is Evan Nelle. After his remarks during the press conference, you can tell that he is not lacking in confidence. Would he be a prophet, or would his words be full of nothing?
ATENEO BLUE EAGLES
Ateneo was supposed to just steamroll everyone last season. Decked out in new Jordan gear, they knocked everyone out left and right until the last game of the elimination round. They got back on track by beating FEU in the Final Four, but ultimately lost a nail-biter of a series against UP despite a 27-point explosion by SJ Belangel. But that should not be a problem because SJ is coming back stronger, right?
Kidding aside, Ateneo is still smarting from the loss of their top point guard, taking his talents to Korea and becoming KOGAS Pegasus’ newest Oppa. Forthsky Padrigao has just been forced to mature much quicker and lead Ateneo’s offense.
The players to look out for however, would be BJ Andrade and Josh Lazaro. While Ange Kouame is definitely Ateneo’s pillar, BJ Andrade’s increased role as captain of the team would definitely play a huge factor. Josh Lazaro made good with the minutes he got last season and would be a very versatile forward, much like how Will Navarro was with the Blue Eagles in season 82.
Oh, and they finally got Kai in the Seniors division! Kai Balunggay, that is. While not as tall as the Kai in Australia, he definitely made a name for himself during the preseason. He would be a very good number 2 option, and could even have some plays set up for him.
And even though Coach Tab and the Blue Eagles would tell you that the title is only a byproduct of getting better as players and as a team, you can bet your bottom, declining value Peso that they are going in for the kill again this
UP FIGHTING MAROONS
Destiny. This is just about the best word to describe the title win of the Fighting Maroons in season 84. How else would you describe Joel Cagulangan’s 3 pointer to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? Someone should really write a book about it.
Of course, it wasn’t Cagulangan alone that won the title. Finals MVP Malik Diouf was very efficient, getting rebounds and commanding the paint. Of course, Carl Tamayo played well beyond his rookie status, creating mismatches against opponents who are either shorter or slower than him. I also want to extend my apologies to Mr. Zavier Lucero. At first, I did not want to believe the hype. Eventually he won me over with his energy and sense of timing. He has become one of my favorite players in the UAAP.
Their lineup is comprised mainly of the same primary weapons, UP is poised to repeat this season. But one thing they have to know as defending champions is that they have a target on their backs, and 7 schools will not be making the road to a back to back easy.
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