Why should I watch the UAAP Season 81 Juniors Division?

The UAAP Juniors Division tipped off over the weekend, and it was met with little to no fanfare. Don’t mistake that for a league that lacks quality. They’re simply a victim of bad timing, with the league starting right as the UAAP Seniors Division Final Four race is reaching its fever pitch.

The lingering question now is, “Why should I watch the UAAP Juniors Division?” Let’s answer that question by taking a look at every team in the league.

Why should I watch…

…the Adamson Baby Falcons?

The Baby Falcons were one of the best stories in High School Basketball last year. From losing their entire core after Season 79, they bounced back, rebuilt their program, and challenge for a slot in the stepladder semifinals last season. While they wound up losing to the UST Tiger Cubs in a playoff, the chances of getting better remain high.

This team is peak darkhorse, with Joem Sabandal leading the way for the Baby Falcons. He had a fine debut for Season 81, putting up an impressive 23-8-4 line, fitting with his profile as a do-it-all combo guard. The Doria brothers, Andrey and Adam remain in the team to backup Sabandal.

…the UST Tiger Cubs?

The Tiger Cubs were a darkhorse last season with CJ Cansino leading the way, and not much has changed despite them losing their MVP. They will continue to contend for a Final Four spot, but leading the way for this group is hotshot Mark Nonoy.

While Cansino wowed with monster physical tools, Nonoy produces with an aggressive style of play. He’s physical, with a motor that keeps on going no matter the situation. Helping him out is Bismarck Lina, who remains as one of the most steady big men in the league. In the long run, it’s also important to remember coaching the team now is Bonnie Garcia, assistant coach to the Growling Tigers. How that translates to development and recruitment of the UST program should be something to watch out for.

…The De La Salle Zobel Junior Archers?

A program as decorated as the DLSZ Junior Archers is bound to breakout sooner or later after having missed the Final Four last season. If there’s any reason to believe that, just look at the youth this group has.

Raven Cortez will undoubtedly lead the headlines because of his unlimited potential, but Batang Gilas guard Migs Pascual is also to watch out for with his steady playmaking. Louis Subido — Yes, brother of Growling Tiger and former King Junior Archer Renzo Subido — is young, but has offensive polish rarely seen from kid’s his age. Nat Sevilla, who teammates joke as an Alvin Pasaol lookalike, has similar motor and activity as his doppleganger.

…the FEU Baby Tamaraws?

While losing LJay Gonzales hurts them, RJ Abarrientos is still there to provide elite guard play for FEU.

But they go beyond just Abarrientos. To the surprise of many, FEU emerged as one of the best teams over the course of the offseason, giving teams like Ateneo and NU trouble. A large part of that was the growth of Royce Alforque, Rei Tolentino and Bryan Sajonia. Xyrus Torres is back, providing plenty of sniping for the Baby Tamaraws. How these players have developed from rotation players to dependable pieces is testament to the coaching of Coach Allan Albano. Them contending for the championship is not far-fetched, by any means.

…the NU Bullpups?

Losing a talent in the caliber of Rhayyan Amsali is always a big blow, but NU is so good, it hasn’t felt that huge for them. Meet the NU Bullpups, the team to beat for UAAP Season 81.

They may not have the best player in the league, but what they have are a bunch of prospects who are somewhere in the Top 25-30 range. While Batang Gilas prospects Carl Tamayo, Gerry Abadiano and Terrence Fortea are the shiniest names, Kevin Quiambao, Cyril Gonzales and Harold Alarcon are to be watched out for. The NU Bullpups have been a factory of surefire college players since Season 74. It looks like that isn’t changing, as they gun for their fourth championship in eight years.

…the UPIS Junior Maroons?

If there’s a team that’s completely embraced the youth movement in High School Basketball, it’s UPIS. They’ve been putting in Grade 8 players to their program ever since, and the hope is, their young blood finally breaks out with solid production.

The biggest name is Jordi Gomez de Liano. To merely associate him with his brothers would be disrespect to him. He’s his own player who’s a unique blend between Javi and Juan, looking to establish himself with his own style of play. Veterans King Vergiere, and Ralph Labao will continue to produce, but the true prize of this group is once its younger prospects finally blossom.

…the Ateneo Blue Eaglets?

Kai Sotto.

While Sotto is enough reason for most to watch the Blue Eaglets, there’s more to this group than just the Kaiju. This is arguably the youngest Blue Eaglets team in history, boasting of five players from the Junior High School (Grade 7-Grade 10). Immaturity and lack of experience are to be watched out for. But the talent in this group is aplenty.

The Batang Gilas members in this group are easy to spot. The polarizing Forthsky Padrigao will be the main playmaker of this team, best known for his passing ability and range from three. Lumbering giant Geo Chiu should breakout, as he’s showcased better footwork and touch over the offseason. But aside from the three National Team members, gritty prospects Jed Diaz, Ian Espinosa and wing trio Daniel David, Joaqx Jaymain and Daniel David should also be kept an eye on over the course of the season.

…the UE Junior Warriors?

Among all the teams in the league, it’s the Junior Warriors that has had the most limited amount of exposure over the course of the preseason. Why watch them then? Simple. Their revamped program is the biggest reason to watch this group of players.

The UE program hasn’t had a consistent pipeline ever since, lagging behind the rest of the league. With two-time Juniors Division champion Coach Joe Silva having large control over the basketball program, expect that to change. There aren’t any familiar names to look out for right now, but expect that to change soon. How the team operates with its new culture in place, should be something to watch out for.