Ready to rumble

Reigning champion University of the Philippines will be treading unfamiliar territory come University Athletic Association of the Philippines Season 85 men’s basketball tournament.

The Fighting Maroons will be walking with huge targets on their backs as the consensual team to beat for the coming competition alongside perennial contenders Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University.

Coaches were in unison naming the Fighting Maroons as title favorites once the collegiate cage wars open on 1 October.

“UP, of course,” said Blue Eagles coach Tab Baldwin on Wednesday during the UAAP Season 85 press conference at the Mall of Asia Arena.

La Salle coach Derick Pumaren, Far Eastern University mentor Olsen Racela, Nash Racela of Adamson University, Jeff Napa of National University, and University of the East assistant coach Don Allado also shared the same sentiment.

University of Santo Tomas assistant coach Rodney Santos was the lone mentor to call the Tigers the team to beat, drawing surprise from the media in attendance.

UP head coach Goldwin Monteverde, seated beside Baldwin, knew that it meant that they’ll need to keep their guards up at all times.

“I guess winning a championship last season does not mean that we’re assured of winning it again,” Monteverde said.

“I think every team, every coach would really prepare to face the challenges of Season 85.”

“For us, we just have to make sure that we’ll be ready and prepared, and just do our best in every game,” Monteverde added.

The Diliman-based squad is bringing back virtually the core of its championship crew that ended UP’s 36-year wait for the crown at the expense of the Blue Eagles.

The Fighting Maroons will have holdovers JD Cagulangan, who sank the game-winner in overtime of Season 84 Finals Game 3, Finals Most Valuable Player Malick Diouf, forward Zavier Lucero and last season’s Rookie of the Year Carl Tamayo.

However, UP is sure to face a tough challenge right from its opening day assignment when the Fighting Maroons take on the Green Archers.

La Salle guard Evan Nelle even made a bold statement opposing the tag that the Fighting Maroons are pre-season favorites.

“I really think we are the favorites the way we bonded during our preseason games. We really showed what we can do as a team. The bonding was really different from the bubble season. So yeah we’re No. 1,” Nelle said.
The Green Archers won the PBA D-League Aspirants’ Cup title and finished third in the FilOil pre-season tournament.

Aside from Nelle, La Salle will parade prized-recruit Kevin Quiambao along with returning veterans Schonny Winston and Season 84 Mythical Five member Michael Phillips.

Ateneo, meanwhile, will have a mix of veterans and freshmen with reigning Most Valuable Player Ange Kouame, BJ Andrade, Dave Ildefonso and Forthsky Padrigao returning for another tour of duty. Newcomers for the Blue Eagles are Kai Ballunggay and Paul Garcia.

As part of their preparation, the Blue Eagles competed and won in the World University Basketball Series in Japan and played against club teams in Israel.

“We were both blessed and not blessed in our preparation. Obviously, the opportunity to travel overseas to Japan, to play in the World University Games and to go to Israel and get both a basketball and cultural experience for our players was really good,” Baldwin said.

“But missing out on competing against our UAAP opponents, I think, is something that may come back to bite us a little bit. We certainly missed that,” the Ateneo mentor added.

Adamson and UST will face off at 2 p.m. followed by the 4 p.m. encounter between UP and La Salle in the 1 October season opening playdate at the Mall of Asia Arena.

On 2 October, NU clashes with UE at 2 p.m. while FEU and Ateneo meet at 4 p.m.

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