UAAP Season 84 was short and quick*. (*Just seven weeks of frantic college basketball—four times a day, three times a week.) UAAP Season 84 was weird*. (*It started with no fans, then a few, then a packed, roaring arena for a Game 3 UAAP Finals game in May*.) (*What?) UAAP Season 85 should be different: no more bubble, multiple venues, with a game schedule that allows us to breathe. There are no more excuses. Drop all asterisks. No BS in 85. It’s PAYBACK SEASON.
WORDS by Miguel Caramoan
The UE Red Warriors are taking it one step at a time to seek vengeance in UAAP Season 85. A true warrior, after all, is courageous enough to admit their flaws.
First and foremost: let’s not sugarcoat things here—the struggle has been real for the UE Red Warriors in the past few seasons of the UAAP. Last time they made the Final Four was back when Paul Lee was still donning the red and white in Season 72. And just months ago, they wrapped up a winless campaign in Season 84. Obviously, not the pedigree we used to see back in the days for this basketball program.
Zooming into last season, the issues for the Red Warriors were seen on both ends of the floor. According to Stats by Ryan, the squad from Recto had the second worst offensive (86.17) and defensive rating (104.68) among the eight teams. Don’t forget that head coach Jack Santiago also got suspended and was away on the sideline for several games.
“We lost key players and had a lot of rookies last season. Kaya in terms of familiarity with players, it takes time. ‘Yung system mo and paano i-apply is hindi nakukuha ng overnight,” Santiago told SLAM Philippines.
One guy that has been with the team through these bad times is Abdul Sawat. Already in his fourth playing year, the 6’4” forward has witnessed how the Red Warriors tried out a myriad of ways to play at a higher level in the UAAP. But when asked about the specific weakness he saw with the team in Season 84, Sawat had specific things in mind.
“‘Yung kulang talaga namin last season is sa mga tao [players] tsaka ‘yung preparation namin parang konti talaga,” Sawat said.
His response just validated the numbers mentioned earlier. Although the Red Warriors were spearheaded by Harvey Pagsanjan, who averaged 13.4 points per game on an inefficient 43.3 TS%, he was the lone guy to hit the double digit on an average basis. To put some context even more, an useful metric computed by Stats by Ryan called VORP, which takes into account the total contribution of a player, emphasized that only three players were positive in that category: the Paranada brothers and Clint Escamis, who has transferred to Mapua.
With Season 85 almost here, the vision for the Red Warriors was to continue improving towards a better showing. Indeed, that preceding statement was materialized as the team had an impressive performance in the preseason tournaments they joined.
Now it’s time to go through each!
Let’s first talk about the FilOil Ecooil Preseason Cup. The tourney was a perfect opportunity for the Red Warriors to constantly develop and get more reps against other collegiate teams, but most importantly, to finally get that elusive breakthrough win, which evaded them the whole Season 84.
Then came their game against Arellano University, where the bad spell was finally put into sleep.
“S’yempre nung Season 84 hindi kami nanalo and pinalad, tapos ‘yung first win namin sobrang saya talaga. Ayun talaga ‘yung gusto namin maramdaman, ‘pag babalik kami ng dugout every after game sana ganun palagi kasi panalo,” the fourth-year player exclaimed about their first win.
The Red Warriors went on to use that win as a morale booster, salvaging three more wins to finish the elimination stage at 4-4 win-loss card. Also worth noting that the Red Warriors showed promising incremental improvements on the defensive end, where they only allowed 94.16 points per 100 possessions.
Although it was not good enough to make them enter the quarterfinals, this signified what’s to come and the groundwork the Red Warriors had done in the offseason.
“It gave us more experience that we played in [FilOil], so the experience of getting the feel of playing with each other and knowing the tendency of my teammates was a big help for the team,” Kyle Paranada said.
“I think being a winless team in Season 84 made my players all very hungry. By winning our game in FilOil, I’ve noticed si Harvey [Pagsanjan] crying during an interview. From that moment, napansin ko na the players got more eager to perform better this coming Season 85,” Coach Santiago said.
A player that stood out in those games was Paranada, UE’s incoming sophomore guard. As a rookie last season, it was clear that he was very much raw and still had room to improve on, but it’s hard to expect him to become the guy already for a team. Yet, the flashes Paranada exemplified in the preseason should not go past us.
Filtering out his performances, in six games that Paranada was inserted more than 20 minutes, he averaged 11.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3 assists on 40/42/71 splits (54.8 TS%) – that included a 24-point explosion in their final game. But above all, the younger Paranada understands that he has a lot of work to do, especially factoring in his physique.
“For me, I’m focusing more on muscle building and getting stronger. I really didn’t get to lift until after Season 84. So I would say that’s my focus on how I’ll continue to be better towards the season,” Paranada said.
Another preseason tournament that the Red Warriors joined is the PinoyLiga Cup, where they became eventual champions. Building from a good impression, they even got better with reinforcements being available, with Fil-Am recruits like Luis Salgado and Gani Stevens bolstering their squad. Not only did those players deepen their depth chart, but they were a perfect complement that answers the obvious deficiency of the team–the lack of big men.
“Big help talaga ‘yung presence ni Luis [Salgado] and Gani [Stevens] kasi ngayon nakikita ko na hindi na hirap ‘yung local players namin and I’m very excited on how the they’ll grow pa with the team,” Coach Santiago said.
As the team’s man in the middle, rookie Gani Stevens sees no pressure fulfilling that role and is excited to seize the responsibility given to him by the coaching staff. With the only school to not sport a foreign-student athlete, Stevens is expected to guard and bang against the opposing bigs that will be nothing but good experience in his maiden year in the UAAP.
“I don’t feel any pressure about it, because if I do I might be forcing myself to expand my game quickly. I’m just going to do my job and what’s the best for the team,” Stevens said.
Since probably his name isn’t still on a quick recall, a short introduction to Stevens should be merited. Coming from the States, the 18-year-old big man had to adjust with the physicality and tempo of Philippine basketball. But Stevens is more than pumped to showcase his own brand of game that the Red Warriors very much need in Season 85.
“I think I can help the team by bringing more size to the table, providing an inside presence and being able to guard the bigger imports of opposing teams. Just want to be that big guy for the team, especially knowing the struggles of the squad last season,” Stevens said.
“For Gani, it’s not about him putting up the big numbers, but how he impacts and gravitates the defense. He could attract multiple defenders when he gets the ball in the post that can open up for shooters. That’s where I see Gani helps UE,” said coach Joshua Presbitero, Stevens’ coach in the US.
If you’ve managed to reach this part of the article, by this time, the idea that UE will not be a pushover come Season 85 must be in the top of your head. All signs tell us the trajectory is going northward for the Red Warriors, but there’s still much ground to be covered.
One assurance we can only deduce is that they’re more than hungry to avenge their winless Season 84 campaign.
[Photos from UAAP]