The training of the Ateneo Blue Eagles in Tokyo, Japan, and Tel Aviv, Israel will definitely sharpen the resolve of the Loyola squad to return to the finals of the 85th University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament when it starts this Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Coach Tab Baldwin said the squad has managed to blend well as they get ready for their first game on Sunday against the Far Eastern University Tamaraws.
“We were blessed, and not blessed, with the opportunity to travel overseas to Japan for World University Series and to Israel for some basketball and cultural experience. It was really good. But we missed out on the pre-season,” said Baldwin during the launch of season 85 on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Now that Ange Kouame, Dave Ildefonso, and Matthew Daves are coming back from injuries, the Blue Eagles are expected to be in good shape when they meet the Tamaraws.
But not having a feel of how the Tams performed during the off-season is something that’s keeping Baldwin on his toes.
“Missed out to compete in the pre-season. It may come back to bite us,” added Baldwin.
The Fighting Maroons are favored to be back and stay in contention in their title-retention bid.
Coach Goldwin Monteverde, who is on his second season with the squad, knows this and said the Maroons are adjusting well without graduates Ricci Rivero and Noah Webb.
Now, he is counting on the likes of Fil-American cager Zavier Lucero and Carl Tamayo to provide leadership in their title retention bid.
“The team is OK. We were able to get them together in Korea, and their preparation has been continuous,” said Monteverde.
Monteverde explained that the young players of the squad had a chance to experience different playing situations when they played in pre-season tournaments like the FilOil-EcoOil and the UCBL Pre-Season tournaments.
The La Salle Green Archers will have coach Derrick Pumaren handling the squad for a second year, and their togetherness and confidence will make them a threat this season.
The Tams, with coach Olsen Racela calling the shots, may be missing RJ Abarrientos, who recently turned pro in Korea, along with Emman Ojuala following his graduation.
But a new batch led by LJay Gonzales and Xyrus Torres are expected to lift the Tams’ fighting spirit.
The National University Bulldogs are also favored to get into the Final Four with their experience of winning the FilOil-Ecoil preseason crown.
But the absence of the Fighting Maroons and Blue Eagles won’t make this matter, according to coach Jeff Napa.“It’s just a matter of providing the players the experience they need coming into the season,” added Napa.
The Falcons laid low in their preparation, as coach Nash Racela sent the team to tournaments in Davao del Sur and in Surigao del Sur to stay in shape.
“We did not have international exposure. Just tuneups and pocket tournaments to get us ready,” remarked Racela.
The University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers will have new coach Bal David calling the shots, and as they seek to improve on their seventh-place finish, and 3-11 win-loss record last season.
Coach Jack Santiago is back to help get the University of the East out of the cellar again and after a 14-game losing spell last year.
Opening games will happen on Saturday at the SM Mall of Asia Arena with live coverage from Cignal TV and Smart – the official UAAP broadcast partners.
The UP Fighting Maroons are set to do battle with the La Salle Green Archers at 4 p.m. on opening day at the Mall of Asia Arena, while the Adamson Falcons meet the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers earlier at 2 p.m.