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.
Aside from debating about who the GOAT is, and complaining about referees, something fans absolutely love doing is comparing current sporting figures with their perceived counterparts from the past.
Take for example Shaun and Dave Ildefonso and their dad, PBA legend Danny Ildefonso.
It’s a connection that’s easy to make, they are father and son. And Shaun and Dave pushed the envelope even further, but tributing their father with the use of their jersey number. Dave wears the number 1. Shaun takes on 0. Side by side, they create the number 10, what Danny I used to wear back in his heyday with the San Miguel Beermen.
That’s where the comparisons stop between Danny I and his sons. For the longest time, fans have been branding Shaun as Demolition Man 2.0, while others have called Dave the Demolition Baby. Playing together in their Dad’s alma mater, they’re the Demolition Brothers. But the comparisons stop with the nicknames. Shaun and Dave are different from their dad on the basketball court. The flashes of the bull strong Ildefonso strength will always be there, that’s the gift of genes and multiple hours in the gym going to work. But when you watch their playing style, it’s something that represents a completely new generation of Ildefonso.
Dave’s received plenty of exposure over the past year, playing in the UAAP Season 80 Juniors Basketball Finals with champion Ateneo Blue Eaglets, and representing the country in the FIBA Asia U18 tournament. He’s a completely different player from his dad. He has the prototypical body of an athletic wing (6’3”-6’4”, chiseled frame), while he’s a proven creator who can score off a variety of ways.
Shaun, on the other hand, has been a little bit more lowkey. He had to sit out for residency after transferring from the Ateneo Blue Eagles to the NU Bulldogs, but he made sure to make the wait worth it. From being an undersized big man who couldn’t find his place in the Seniors Division, Shaun has since then evolved into a more complete player. He isn’t the guard his size calls for him to play yet, but he’s transitioned nicely into a combo forward that uses his athleticism, as well as a more polished game to produce.
Which then brings us to another example of comparisons done regularly: a current team’s core to that of a past iteration. Each team, whether it be in the UAAP or the PBA has stereotypes attached to them. The NU Bulldogs didn’t have a true identity and they struggled to gain relevance as they wallowed in the basement of the league. But in the past few seasons, they’ve found their place in the UAAP. They’ve been known lately as a team that plays gritty basketball using their players with size.
It’s a stereotype that makes plenty of sense, especially when you consider the level of talent that the Bulldogs have paraded over the last few years. It started with Alfred Aroga and Troy Rosario at the helm, with the two talented bigs leading NU to a championship in Season 77. It then transitioned to a more lowkey frontline that had Kyle Neypes and Glenn Khobuntin, but the same grit and grind mentality was still there. Talent was never the primary calling card of NU. They would beat you by grinding you down, and overwhelming you with their sheer size.
The Season 81 NU Bulldogs would naturally be compared to past iterations.
This season’s team may carry the same name as the Season 77 NU Bulldogs. Once again, that’s where the comparisons stop. To paint this group of Bulldogs in the same light as their kuyas would be disrespect to the kind of talent they have now.
This year’s Bulldogs, they don’t necessarily have the same kind of overwhelming size past NU teams had. Issa Gaye and Matthew Aquino are a long duo, but this isn’t the same group that would pound you with their big men. In fact, they actually lack the size past NU teams had. Call it veering away from “tradition”, but that’s the reality of what this team has. This is a team that has plenty of depth along the wings, Ildefonso brothers Shaun and Dave included.
There is no “Ildefonso Way”. Even an “NU Bulldogs Way” doesn’t exist when it comes to this group of players. There is one thing though: The Selfless Way, the mantra Coach Jamike Jarin and the NU Bulldogs have embraced for this Season 81.
It’s going to take some time to get used to, seeing an Ildefonso that plays in the wings with NU rather than center, and a Bulldogs team that parades a group of guards and forwards instead of multiple big men. But this season, by all intents and purposes, could be the beginning of something new for the NU program.
UAAP Season 81 Previews: