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Future is Bright for UPIS

The UPIS Junior Fighting Maroons are looking at a bright future and are poised to making a breakthrough in the local hoops scene.

WORDS by Miguel Caramoan

Developing good habits and building a winning culture – that is the direction the UPIS Fighting Maroons hope to achieve. 

After three long years, high school hoops came back to the scene, with a new crop of players ready to represent their respective schools. For some teams, the goal was to once again assert their dominance in the Juniors division. In the case of UPIS, nurturing their young talent was put at a premium.

In the recently concluded UAAP Season 85 Boys Tournament, the Junior Fighting Maroons finished last among eight teams, with a 1-13 win-loss record. It was identical to the mark they had back in Season 82. But an underrated discourse in basketball is that sometimes the process outweighs the results, which might apply to the squad. 

Though their campaign didn’t translate to wins, it was evident that strides were definitely made that should be worth noticing. 

One bright spot for UPIS was the emergence of former Gilas U-16 player Kobe Demisana. A force inside the paint who could also play out on the perimeter, Demisana had averages of 17.6 points, 12.6 rebounds, 2.1 steals, and 4.07 blocks (!!!) on a 45.6 true shooting percentage in 35.2 minutes per game. 

Last season also saw the growth of guard Jonas Napalang as their team captain and one of their main studs. As the lead guard, he averaged 16.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.3 steals on a 47.7 true shooting percentage in 35.5 minutes of play. 

And now that UPIS will no longer have the Demisana-Napalang, the focus will shift to becoming more competitive in the coming seasons. Those two graduating players have laid the foundation and shown the way, and now it’s time for the young bucks to pick up the cudgels. And they may have found a definitive candidate to take charge.

Remember the name Daryl Valdeavilla. Only in his first season with the squad, he proved his value and became an instant contributor for the Junior Fighting Maroons. Valdeavilla even cracked the top 10 in scoring, tallying 14 points per contest. This production was partnered with good efficiency, as he shot 30 percent from deep in 4.3 attempts and was the best free throw shooter in the Juniors division at an 88.5 percent shooting clip.

Just like Demisana, Valdeavilla also bagged a major award this season, hailed as the Rookie of the Year in Season 85. The sky’s the limit as the baton to lead the Junior Fighting Maroons will be passed to him.

Aside from Valdeavilla, ready to banner UPIS in the future are newcomers Basty Jacob and Rocco Melicor. They both balled out in their lone win of Season 85 against the UE Junior Red Warriors and showed what’s to expect from their young core.

In an overtime game that went in the Maroons’ favor, both players scored their career-high to help them snag the win. Jacob made sure to put his imprint in the interior with 19 points, nine rebounds, four steals, and a block. He also led the Junior Fighting Maroons in terms of shooting above the arc at 54 percent.

On the other hand, the flashy Melicor chipped 16 markers and four assists. He was also among the five UPIS players who suited up for all 14 elimination games. Expect these guys to continue leveling up as they grow with the team.

Of course, helping these young talents behind the scenes and from the sidelines is Coach Lito Vergara, who is currently an assistant coach for UPIS under head coach Paolo Mendoza.

Vergara is no stranger to UP’s basketball program as he was a member of the Fighting Maroons in the late 1980s. He also coached the UPIS Junior Maroons two decades ago and steered the school to its first-ever UAAP championship in 2002.

There’s been a lot of discussions about the definition of failure. Does failure take part in sports or is it just considered small steps towards success? The answer to that question might be subjective, but the talking point that should surface regarding the performance of UPIS this season must be the constant progress they had even in a lowly season.

Give credit where credit is due. The exemplary showings of Demisana, Napalang, and Valdeavilla were a testament to the leadership instilled within the team. Demisana was able to cook because of the freedom and plays drawn up for him by the coaching staff. Props to the continuous effort in developing Napalang into an elite guard at the high school level. Their trust to let Valdeavilla do his thing as a rookie made him comfortable with the team quickly.

Simply put, it was a productive season for UPIS, which is one of the most formidable high school programs in the UAAP.

Exciting times might be looming, with positive changes on the horizon. And cliche as it may sound, the UPIS Junior Fighting Maroons truly have nowhere to go but up.

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