There is a certain aura that surrounds Zavier Lucero, the 6-foot-7 Filipino-American coming from California State University.
His contributions as a first-year recruit have spurred the UP Fighting Maroons to a 12-2 record as a second seed in the UAAP Season 84. The MVP candidate sees this as the standard they need to expect of each other with playing with talents such as Ricci Rivero, CJ Cansino, and Carl Tamayo. Everything must start with their mentality if they want to take home the crown.
The UP community has fully embraced him ever since his debut and gave him all the love that he did not imagine getting. He acknowledges the pride many “Iskolar ng Bayans” have in the success of the team.
“It is a responsibility to bring a championship back to Katipunan. The fans have been supporting us a lot and it is our job now to repay their faith with a title that they have been wanting for a long time,” Lucero said.
His first year in the UAAP is nothing short of a roller-coaster, but filled with the highest of highs. A lackluster debut (two points, no field goals, and two turnovers) was the motivation that Lucero needed to kickstart the season. He then led the Fighting Maroons to a four-game winning streak to end the eliminations with a banner win over Ateneo.
The importance of staying healthy and being mentally sharp is the point of emphasis for Lucero in the bubble. He has not experienced the Philippines fully but juggling game preparation, keeping in touch with family in the United States, and hanging out with teammates help him adjust to life in the country.
These are not ideal circumstances for any basketball team, but he has the humility to control what he can control and live with the outcome. All teams have the same circumstances. The team that is able to adjust and perform will ultimately take home the crown.
Their preparations in the bubble since January have certainly paid off, but Lucero would not be tatted by the distractions off the court. They may have a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four, but the only expectation he has for himself is a championship. That is what he came to the Philippines for.
For Lucero, the feeling of playing UAAP games in front of a frenzy collegiate crowd is something else, after two years of being deprived of live basketball. The bubble added another layer to the preparation, but Lucero likes to think that the mental preparation for a game is already half the battle. The understanding of taking one game at a time and racking up wins builds good habits to perform against the other top teams in the league.
“We are improving every single game. We took a loss to De La Salle but we used each game in the eliminations to get better. We moved the ball well, trusted each other, and kept the discipline to gain good habits,” Lucero said.
The final UP versus Ateneo bout had a massive impact on whether the playoffs go to a stepladder format or a Final Four. A loss versus Ateneo would give them an additional day of rest while a win would open up the traditional Final Four format—a first since 2018. Ultimately, the Fighting Maroons knew they had the talent and discipline to test their preparations against the three-peat defending champions.
Lucero understands the Final Four frenzy from the atmosphere in the eliminations and the stories of his teammates. It will be a fun and exciting environment, but he understands that they have their work cut out for them if they want to win it all in UAAP Season 84. All the teams in this round are definitely competitive, but it is a challenge that they are all looking forward to as a team and as individuals.
“The team is confident. This is an opportunity to bring home the trophy with the talent we have on this roster. There is definitely pressure, but we expect more from ourselves, so it sets the standard for everyone in the locker room,” said Lucero. “At the end of the day, we are a confident bunch. We can match up to any team in the league and have the talent to win it all. The Final Four will be a huge test and we are looking forward to it.”
The MVP candidate is just getting started in the Philippines. Everyone has seen how he can mold his game to what his team needs to win, but Lucero is just getting started.
First, La Salle, then Ateneo. Three wins will be all it takes now for the Fighting Maroons to accomplish their mission and for Lucero to start his Philippine life on the right foot.
(Photos by UAAP Media)