UAAP Season 78 preview: UP Fighting Maroons

nu-up r2 pic 5 by roy afable

New Recruits: Janjan Jaboneta, Cheick Kone, Pio Longa, Jerson Prado, Noah Webb
Holdovers: Agustini Amar Jr., Henry Asilum, Diego Dario, Paul Desiderio (returning), JR Gallarza, Andrew Harris, Mark Juruena, Jarell Lim, Jett Manuel (returning), Dave Moralde, Gelo Vito
Departures: Vince Bederi, Moriah Gingerich (now part of coaching staff), Kyles Lao (out for season due to ACL injury), Mikee Reyes

Season 77 result –  To put it in perspective, UP’s 77th season was the kind of season that UP fans have come to expect. No, actually, that statement would be wrong to begin with. The blatant truth is that if you’re a UP fan, you’ve probably learned it’s best not to expect anything.

There was promise in the Fighting Maroons last season. As there is, every year. With Mikee Reyes returning, Kyles Lao coming off an astounding rookie season, and with young pieces like Diego Dario to give the roster a boost, there was hope.

The goal was four wins. Two of which were reasonably assumed against Adamson and the other two, hoping against hope, versus UE. Pretty reasonable, right?

However, things did not exactly go as architecturally designed. The Maroons lost both games against UE. They won one against the Falcons, but lost the other in a heart-breaker.

In the end, they settled for another disappointing 1-13 season.

That one win could have easily been more, though. That four-win goal could’ve been achieved. There were a lot of ‘almost’ games that UP just couldn’t close out, including one against Ateneo (sorry, Mikee, I had to). But what’s left to do now is apply the lessons learned and move forward, bring them along, as the Maroons continue to fight.

Season 78 outlook – There’s a saying: ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. And so the only team who never says ‘we’re entering this season as a new team’ is the reigning champion. But most teams who say that don’t really have the proof to back it up. Eventually, they look and play the same way.

As for UP, even before the season began, it was evident that the Fighting Maroons we were going to see in season 78 would be a significantly revamped squad.

The roster was shaken. The coaches were changed. Heck, even the logo of the team was freaking revised!

New UP Fighting Maroons logo - 1

Of course, while the idea of change brings with it so many possibilities, it’s not always welcomed with open arms. There was a lot of scrutiny that surrounded every modification that the UP Fighting Maroons underwent.

Roster. Sure, welcome to the team Cheick Kone. Finally, we have a big man who can actually intimidate opposing scorers. But no more Mikee Reyes? Wasn’t he the dude who kept dropping buckets on other teams last season? Then that injury on Kyles Lao. That pinched a nerve on every Iskolar ng Bayan’s knee.

Coaches. New head coach Rensy Bajar was not safe from the standard question: is he the right man for job? In reality, of course, it will probably be Joe Ward masterminding the Maroons. Nevertheless, can this new coaching staff push the Fighting Maroons to bigger battles?

And ahhh, the logo. The one that got 30% of the fans saying “oooh, nice!” and the other 70% screaming, “the eff is that?!”

But here’s to trusting change. Here’s to trusting Barney Stinson when he said that “new is always better.”

Henri Asilum and ?

The UP Fighting Maroons enter season 78 with no numbers to give. No number of wins they promise to get. Instead, they have a system built on defensive intensity and a mindset that finally believes they are capable of actually winning.

With the return of Manuel and Desderio, they get much needed scoring options, especially with the exit of Reyes and the loss of Lao. Plus the inside presence of Kone will be very crucial. His game may not be as polished as the likes of Alfred Aroga and Karim Abdul, but his 6’10” will still be tough to climb for opposing teams.

Pressure defense will be their ArmaLite. Expect the Maroons to blast the opposing guards for all 94-feet of the hardcourt. Dario, along with fellow guards Lim and Asilum, will be the anchors of that game-plan.

With new players, new coaches, and a new emblem, they want fans to look forward to one thing, as Dario proudly proclaimed, “a completely different team.”

Season 78 prediction – Surprise season.

The Maroons are coming off another horrible UAAP season. But that’s not the last tournament they played in. They also played in the FilOil preseason tournament wherein they were met by highs and lows.

They did score some wins. They did force close matches against arguably stronger teams like La Salle. But they were also set back by rather lowly teams like LPU.

But the biggest offseason campaign for UP was the FBA, where they were crowned the inaugural champs of the newly-founded league. Sure, it’s not that big of the competition yet. But as coach Renzy Bajar has said, what’s important is that these boys start believing that they can achieve something more than just ‘one, two, three or four wins.’

Ask any UP player about this year’s target and they’ll give you the number ‘4’. No, not the four wins from last year. They mean the Final Four.

Kind of a reach, some would probably say. But at the risk of making a fool out of myself, I do believe it’s feasible.

UP has the ability to surprise the entire league this year. By making it to the Final Four, by making it to six wins, by making it to the Finals, who knows?! And who’s to tell them they can’t make it to any of those?

I see UP scoring those wins against Adamson and UE this year. Two from each. Then some from the other schools.

It may seem like such a build-up right now. But when they start racking up those wins, it will all make sense.