It’s quite apt that the UAAP is rolling with the theme “It all begins here” for the new season. The 81st season of the league feels like a fresh start, not just for several teams competing, but for the league itself.
UAAP Season 81 is all about new beginnings
The UAAP kicked off Season 81 with their annual press conference, featuring the coaches of all the eight member teams. Also in attendance were members of the UAAP Board, the newly assigned Executive Director Atty. Rebo Saguisag and the Commissioner for the upcoming season, Junel Baculi.
UAAP President Nilo Ocampo opened the proceedings by lauding the accomplishments of the athletes who represented the country. But he said that every athlete begins somewhere and for some, that was the UAAP.
“Before they can reach the top of the mountain, they must start somewhere. To that, we say, ‘It all begins here.'”
NEW LOOK TEAMS
To start the press con, each coach was asked to give an assessment of their team heading into the new season. A recurring theme among several coaches was their cautious optimism for their young teams.
Assistant coach Nap Garcia said it best when he quipped that the UST Growling Tigers under new head coach Aldin Ayo changed a familiar slogan. “Ang mantra namin ngayon is not mayhem. Coach Aldin changed it to Hail Mary. We’re looking to compete.”
The UE Red Warriors are also focused not on the end result but in the process of growth within the season. “Rest assured that Warrior mentality, we’re going to show that day in, day out,” said new UE Red Warriors head coach Joe Silva.
“It’s all about maturity,” explained coach Louie Gonzales about the La Salle Green Archers. Coming from a rough break where they lost two of their best players last season, coach Gonzales has put a renewed focus on teaching his team. “Our players surrendered to the learning process.”
Another team with a young core are the NU Bulldogs. With six rookies coming in, coach Jamike Jarin is simply asking his boys to compete in every game that they play “We’re a very young team. We’re very competitive. We’re always looking for motivation.”
One thing is for sure with the Bulldogs though, Troy Rike will be suiting up for them in Season 81. The questions regarding the big man’s eligibility have been addressed. Coach Jarin exclaimed “Troy Rike will play this Saturday.”
Another team looking to make a splash this season is the UP Fighting Maroons. Coach Bo Perasol talked about not just winning but showcasing the UP Program. “We dare to dream to compete with the stronger programs. We are going to find a way to lift up the kind of program that we have.” With Bright Akhuetie on board, he believes that the Fighting Maroons can achieve new heights.
The Adamson Falcons, aren’t one of the young teams in the league. In fact they’re a team coming off back-to-back Final Four appearances. But they’re still approaching the new season like they’re underdogs to keep their players sharp.
“Our guys are up to the challenge,” says assistant coach Don Allado. In fact their focus is at the immediate task ahead. “We’re not thinking that far ahead (Final Four). We’re locked in on one thing, that’s Sunday (their first game).”
While there are several teams looking to start anew in Season 81, one team looms over the rest of the field. The Ateneo Blue Eagles are out to defend their championship from last season. When asked who the Final Four favorites are, several coaches didn’t hesitate to name Ateneo.
Coach Olsen Racela marvelled at the offseason of Ateneo where they won the FilOil Championship and represented the country in the 2018 Jones Cup. He even said he’d be surprised if Ateneo lost a game. When asked about the Final Four, he answered straight out, “The best chance is Ateneo. After Ateneo, it’s a fair fight for all the teams.”
Several coaches echoed coach Racela’s prediction. Coach Jarin, always with an entertaining answer used the seating arrangement to name his Final Four teams. “On my right (AdU, ADMU, DLSU, FEU) these are the Final Four. On my left (UE, UP, UST), including me (NU), we’re trying to get to the right.”
One of the teams standing in Ateneo’s way is the FEU Tamaraws. Last season, FEU pushed Ateneo to the limit in the semis. This season, they’re bringing back a veteran team that they built from within. “Ganado na kami dito sa darating na season. Excited na lahat sa koponan namin to play for those 5 players (graduating players).” said coach Racela.
FEU may not have big names, but they have a core group that knows how to play together. Coach Racela explained the continuity in the FEU program. “With FEU we’re all about player development. In the past few seasons we’ve had difficulty recruiting blue chip players. What we do is develop players. Improve their skills and their character.”
As for the Blue Eagles, Coach Tab Baldwin refused to feed into the hype being given to his team. In fact, he refused to even give his Final Four prediction. “I would never answer this question. That would only give fuel to the teams I name.” Instead Coach Baldwin, as always, is focused on how his team will perform.
For him, this a not a continuation of last season, rather a whole new season with a different set of challenges. He said can’t control what happens to the rest of the league but he can control how his team plays. “For our team, this is about what we talk about all the time. Respect the game. Respect the opponents. Play the game that you love.”
This new season will not only bring exciting competition but new rules and officiating to the UAAP.
One rule change affecting the schools is the reduction of drums during UAAP games. This has been a hot topic with fans and members of the respective schools’ cheer squads. Atty. Saguisag explained that this move was done with the consent of all the member schools. He’s not looking to eliminate the drums completely, rather find a middle ground for everyone involved. “The idea was a gradual change.This move is experimental and can be changed.”
Also being introduced this season are the new FIBA guidelines. Even though this is still for implementation in FIBA-sanctioned leagues by October, the UAAP opted to begin their implementation as soon as the season starts this Saturday. This was another change confirmed by Atty. Saguisag.
The biggest change in the basketball tournaments this season is that the UAAP will have their own dedicated officiating crew. “The management committee gave their approval. Three weeks ago, we got applicants. We got 25 referees for all our basketball games (Men’s, Women’s, Juniors),” announced Baculi.
The entire officiating crew will be present in games even though they aren’t assigned to call the game in order to learn from each other and find a way to hone how they call games. This 15-person pool will also be exclusive to the UAAP. “They cannot officiate in other leagues even if they are suspended,” explained Baculi.
The end goal of this is to be able to improve the officiating of all basketball tournaments and ensure that the new season will be an exciting ride. The new UAAP season begins on Saturday, September 8.
UAAP Season 81 Previews: