Additions: Osama Abdurasad, Justin Arana, Mario Bonleon Jr., Enrique Caunan Jr., Zachary Huang, Dean Marvin Lee, Kyle Suarez, Janrey Garrido (returnee)
Subtractions: Reggie Basibas, Levi Dela Cruz, Alfren Gayosa, Kim Lo, Jan Macasaet, Aljon Mariano, Paolo Pe, Raymart Sablan
Holdovers: Karim Abdul, Ed Daquioag, Jeepy Faundo, Kevin Ferrer, Kent Lao, Jon Sheriff, Renz Subido, Louie Vigil
Season 77 Result: No other team experienced a deeper fall from grace than the UST Growling Tigers last season. On the heels of back-to-back Finals appearances, the Tigers were sent crashing back to UAAP mediocrity, as they finished their 2014 campaign with a 5-9 slate, good for sixth out of the eight-team field.
One can argue that the Tigers sorely missed the services of scoring machine Jeric Teng last year, but on paper, they still owned a formidable triumvirate of Kevin Ferrer, Aljon Mariano and Mythical 5 fixture Karim Abdul. However, a series of unfortunate events greeted Bong Dela Cruz in his first year as the Tigers’ bench boss.
There was Ferrer, breaking his left hand, which cut short his penultimate amateur season. There was Mariano, who tried hard to exorcise the ghost of the Season 76 Finals, only to turn in inconsistent outings. And there was Abdul, criticizing his own teammates, which served to disrupt the Tigers’ cohesiveness over the course of the season.
These things, compounded with the sloppy play of the squad, which struggled to grasp the system of Dela Cruz, spelled disaster for UST. Despite their roster, they regularly struggled with the likes of UP and Adamson, the two teams that wound up with 1-13 records. The numbers bore those observations out. They averaged just 62.4 points per game, sandwiched between UP and Adamson, and were sixth in points per 100 possessions at 81.42, again, above only State U and AdU. They also struggled to rebound (#7 in the UAAP), and to move the ball (#6 in assists), and placed second-to-last in fast break points and second-chance points.
Season 78 outlook: UST once again enters this season losing another key piece of their back-to-back Finals runs. While Aljon Mariano was inconsistent on the court in his final UAAP season, he was still a decent scorer, putting up 11 points per game, good for second on the team behind Karim Abdul’s 14.4 output. His versatility also made him a good complement to the workhorse center in the shaded lane.
Though Paolo Pe and Kim Lo didn’t produced eye-popping stats, their contributions were nonetheless significant to UST, especially on the defensive end. Pe in particular was a solid defensive big man for the Tigers. He may have the rawest of offensive moves, but dude sure knew how to do battle among the trees whenever his number got called.
With Mariano and Pe gone, plus former San Sebastian Staglet pivot Jan Macasaet failing to make the cut in this year’s roster, the Tigers again face the dilemma of lacking enough manpower down low. And to think the Tigers have reeled in Alvin Patriminio, who etched his mark as one of Philippine basketball’s finest operators in the paint, to oversee the training of the team’s big men.
Just like with the UST teams of past, this year’s incarnation of the Tigers will hinge on their slew of hybrid forwards – guys tall enough to occasionally challenge opposing bigs but with the quickness to exploit smaller perimeter players. Aside from Ferrer and Louie Vigil, who has shown that he is capable of taking over the scoring cudgels from Teng, UST welcomes another addition to this bunch with former Batang Gilas Pilipinas member Mario Bonleon making his collegiate debut after saturating in residency for two years.
However, as skilled and talented Bonleon is, as well as having new faces Osama Abdurasad and Bonleon’s fellow Batang Gilas mate and ex-UP Maroon Kyle Suarez to help old hands Jon Sheriff and Renzo Subido in the backcourt chores, it’s safe to say that UST will have more than its fair share of struggles patrolling the shaded lane. There’s Abdul – and not much else. Not to take away anything from Kent Lao and Jeepy Faundo, but a dearth of ceiling might serve as the Tigers’ waterloo this season. While a motivated Karim Abdul, in his final season to boot, should still put up numbers, Dela Cruz’s crew will be hard-pressed to ensure that they don’t burn him out before the season is over.
Prediction for Season 78: Fourth to fifth place
Despite having a solid core of battle-tested veterans such as Abdul, Ferrer, Vigil and Ed Daquioag in its fold, all of whom can mount a tough challenge against other teams in the league, the fact that almost half of the team will just be making their UAAP debuts makes his UST’s bench quite questionable.
Still, a team that possess a double-double machine like Abdul and a 3DA-type player in Ferrer should not be taken out of the equation insofar as jockeying for a playoff spot is concerned. And with the two in the twilight of their varsity careers, along with combo guard Daquioag, it is expected that all three will attempt to go out in a blaze of glory. UST will likely try to challenge for the fourth seed in the UAAP, and who knows? Perhaps the presence of a proven winner in Patrimonio might make the difference in what is expected to be an open race this season.