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.
We all have that 4 Privet Drive.
Harry Potter did.
For eleven years, 4 Privet Drive was like a prison for the boy who lived. Throughout his childhood, he was forced to believe that he was worth nothing more than a muggle. His uncle, his aunt, his cousin, everyone looked down on him and took him for granted. They made him feel like he was less than what he really was: a wizard that’s destined to do greater things.
At some point in our lives, we will all have that 4 Privet Drive. Maybe some of us already had. A place, a person, or an experience that keeps on pulling us back, hindering us from growing to our fullest potential.
For Arvin Tolentino’s basketball career, 4 Privet drive was located in Katipunan.
Before you decide to stone me to death or turn me into someone who must not be named, just hear me out. I’m well aware that Ateneo was where Tolentino jumpstarted his career. He took the league by storm back in Season 77. He certainly looked like the next big thing in college hoops. Maybe even the successor to Kiefer Ravena’s throne as King Eagle.
Even at a young age, Tolentino showed that he was a beast on offense. He was a natural-born scoring machine. He could post up on smaller defenders, drive past bigger opponents, drain the occasional mid-range jumpers, and even step out for three-pointers. Every flick of his wrist was like magic that led the ball through the hoop.
As Tolentino banked on his offensive prowess, he filled his first year at the UAAP with brilliant performances. His string of strong first-round games earned him that season’s ROY award in dominant fashion. No one in his class came close enough to beating him. Not Ricci Rivero. Not even Thirdy Ravena, who was his teammate back then.
Season 78 should have been Tolentino’s breakout year with the Blue Eagles. He was poised to take Ateneo’s starting forward position. However, he never became part of the team’s starting five throughout that year. He had to ride the bench for the entire season, including Ateneo’s only Final Four game against FEU. The #FreeArvinTolentino movement was born.
Tolentino’s supposed ascent to the top of the UAAP was halted after his first season. A year after winning the ROY, his playing time was cut down to half, and his production suffered a huge dip. It was a massive fallout for his budding career.
Then came the mass exodus from Ateneo. Tolentino, together with Hubert Cani, Jerie Pingoy and CJ Perez, were left to find new homes when Ateneo released them from the roster before Season 79. Perez switched transferred to Lyceum. Pingoy went to Adamson. As fate would have it, Tolentino and Cani found a new home with the FEU Tamaraws, the team that eliminated them the previous season.
In his redshirt year, Tolentino completely fell off the radar. In just three years, he turned from a rising star to a never was.
If you’re gonna ask a fan today who they think the best player in the UAAP is, you might get answers like Thirdy Ravena or Aljun Melecio. Guys with the rings. Or perhaps, Paul Desiderio or Alvin Pasaol might pop out from time to time. Maybe another player who flashed moments of greatness in recent years
Nowhere will Arvin Tolentino’s name be thrown into that conversation.
Based on everything that transpired for his first three years in the UAAP, Tolentino’s career should have already ended the moment he left Ateneo. It would be easy to write him off after he skipped one season for residency. But it’s kind of ironic that his jump from Ateneo to FEU was his Platform 9 ¾ moment. He ran his cart and his whole life through the brick wall, and he was rewarded with his second chance to turn his fortunes around.
One year after his exile, Tolentino quietly reestablished himself as one of FEU’s core players. With a team like the Tamaraws which took pride on defense, Tolentino was a steady contributor on the offensive end. He averaged 12 points and 6.3 rebounds throughout last year’s elimination round.
Tolentino joining FEU was what he needed to revitalize his career. Now, he’s ready to have his long overdue breakout year, possibly include himself in the list of UAAP’s elites.
With Ron Dennison out of FEU’s lineup, Tolentino will be carrying a bigger offensive load for the Tamaraws. For the first time in his career, he will have the chance to take the driver’s seat, and be the ride-or-die guy for his team. Tolentino is definitely up to the task. He’s Born Ready for this.
Coach Olsen Racela still has a ton of other guys who can score for his squad. There’s Cani, Prince Orizu, even Wendel Comboy and Richard Escoto. But none of them has the otherworldly potential on offense that Tolentino always carries with him. He has every shot imaginable at his disposal to break his defenders down.
Just look at what Tolentino was able to do with the Tamaraws last season. His 12-point average placed him well within the league’s top 10 scorers. He did that despite playing only 17 minutes per game. He’s the only player from Season 80 to have a double-digit output in scoring while playing less than 20 minutes per outing. He also had three double-double performances on top of his scoring feat.
He also proved that he could stretch the floor even if he played as a big man. He converted 22 threes in 61 attempts throughout the previous season. Aside from Ron Dennison, he was the only Tamaraw to average more than one three point shot converted per game in Season 80.
His performance from last season seems to be leading to higher expectations and a higher ceiling this year. Whether he can carry FEU into the Final Four—maybe the championship—will be answered as Season 81 progresses.
He may have a lot of upside on offense, but his defense is still just average at best. He still has a long way to go in terms of being a more complete, multi-faceted player. Right now though, he has every tool he needs to become a generational talent on offense. How his career will go from here will be entirely up to him.
No one knows how high his level play will jump from here on. There are only three sure things for Tolentino this season: He will have every opportunity to score, he will look to score, and he will be closest to the MVP this year than he ever was in his UAAP stint.
This time, we won’t be need owls to flood FEU’s mailbox with letters asking the team to #FreeArvinTolentino again.
UAAP Season 81 Previews: